Short Story: Code of Chivalry

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swaswj

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Feb 18, 2008
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Another, and the latest written, of my Jorland and Arturius stories. This serves somewhat as a counter-point to Sacrifices, but I think it was also meant to be a precursor to another story I never wrote. I wanted to examine the aftermath of this story, but after the real Arturius and Jorland left the game, I felt uncomfortable writing about their characters, and began to focus more on my own.

~ The Code of Chivalry ~


The sun rose over the horizon, brightening the thick band of trees. At the edge, bordering the fields of turnips, there was a gleam of silver. The sounds of the awakening day were quiet all around, as a single alien voice spoke forth. The words came strong and sure, full of sincerity and conviction; there was no pause, no hesitation, in the recital of those oaths. Gauntleted hands wrapped around the top of the cross-guard, the sword plunged into the soft dirt beneath the steel-sheathed knee, he continued his morning ritual. His morning duty.

"I swear that I shall believe all that the virtues teach, and shall observe all of their directions. I swear that I shall defend those virtues." He faced in the direction of the rising sun. "I shall respect all weaknesses, and shall constitute myself the defender of them." His eyes were closed, his mind was focused. "I shall not recoil before mine enemy. I shall make war against darkness without cessation, and without mercy." His back remained, as always, straight as an arrow.

"I shall never lie, and shall remain faithful to my pledged word. I shall be everywhere and always the champion of the right and the good against injustice and evil." He knelt there, with one knee in the vibrant green grass. "I shall live my life so that it is worthy of respect and honor. I shall live for freedom, justice and all that is good." His armor was scrupulously polished, a gleaming beacon in the rays of the sun. "I shall never attack an unarmed foe. I shall never use a weapon on an opponent not equal to the attack. I shall never attack from behind." His tunic was a pure, unsoiled white, his cloak a bright and clear blue. "I shall avoid lying to my fellow man. I shall avoid cheating. I shall avoid torture.

"I shall administer justice. I shall protect the innocent." His sharply chiseled face was freshly shaved and dried. "I shall show respect to all authority." His thick chestnut brown hair was newly washed and brushed. "I shall exhibit courage in word and deed. I shall defend the weak and innocent." A breeze began to blow, rippling the grass and trees. "I shall destroy evil in all of its monstrous forms. I shall crush the monsters that steal our land and rob our people." His clean-shaven jaw was set firmly. "I shall avenge the wronged. I shall never abandon a friend, ally, or noble cause.

"I shall fight with honor, and die with valor. I shall always keep my word of honor. I shall always maintain my principles." His brow was firm, his broad shoulders squared. "I shall never betray a confidence or comrade. I shall respect life and freedom." Beside him, another stirred. "I shall show loyalty to country, king, honor, freedom, and the code of chivalry. I shall show loyalty to friends and those who lay their trust in me." He placed his forehead to the glimmering pommel of his sword. "I shall live my life with honor."

He opened his eyes to the light of the new day. His bright brown eyes took in its glory. He lifted his eyes upward, to the heavens. "Summ... May the day give Truth to eliminate the shadows." His voice was no longer alone. "Summ... May the night give Courage to those who must face the darkness." Beside him knelt another, his hands clasped over a warhammer. "Summ... May the dawn breathe Love into the hearts of stone." Together, their voices rang out into the morning.

"Summ... May the Love in my heart and the Truth of my purpose give me the Courage to face the day."

The pair bowed their heads once more, then rose. Arturius stood as the breeze blew past, his spirit cleansed, his mind refreshed, and his purpose clear. He looked over at Jorland, who was crouched down uncovering his armor lying on the ground. His thick, dark brown hair, hanging just below his shoulders, was disheveled. The younger paladin had only a plain kilt on for clothing, the muscles in his back displayed for all to see, along with the numerous scars crisscrossing the man's back.

Arturius had his own share of scars, but not all of his younger companion's were scars from battle.

While Jorland strapped on his platemail, polished to a mirror shine, Arturius pulled his sword out of the ground. With the cloth at his belt, he wiped the blade clean before sheathing it at his waist. He walked over to their horses to put their saddles on; thoroughly brushed and curried, they were ready to move. Arturius grabbed his steel kite shield from near his bedding and strapped it to the side of his mount, Tempest. The white stallion snorted once to acknowledge the added weight. Justicar, with reddish brown fur, watched Arturius without any commentary.

Returning to the edge of the band of trees, the paladin looked off into the distance. The sight of the city, there at the edge of his vision, made his blood run cold. His face grim, Arturius stood there listening to the wind blowing through the grass and fields, as well as the rustling and clanking of Jorland donning his armor. The noises behind him stopped momentarily, and then Jorland came to stand beside him, tying his hair back with a string of leather. Arturius turned to look up at his companion's face, bearing a grim expression of its own, the countenance of a much older man on this youth's face. Now that he was clean-shaven, he looked even younger, in spite of the age in his dark brown eyes.

At last, Jorland commented, "Soon, don't you think?"

Watching the clear blue skies, Arturius nodded, "Aye, soon."

Jorland's gauntleted fist tightened at his side. "I can't bear waiting like this," he said through gritted teeth.

The older paladin turned toward his ally. "I know," he said quietly, "but remember what Will said. Once Serim begins, he can't leave. We have to stop him, and we can't afford to have him run again. He has to think he's safe."

Jorland lowered his head, his hair shadowing his eyes. "Innocent people will die, you know?"

I shall defend the weak and the innocent.

"I know," Arturius said quietly.

They waited there, each thinking silently. Abruptly, Arturius looked up, calling out to Jorland as he turned and ran for the horses. Heaving his armored bulk onto Tempest, Arturius began galloping the charger across the fields, headed toward the road into town. "Hurry, Jorland!"

There was a flash of utter blackness, blinding the two paladins briefly. It lifted almost immediately, and everything returned to their sight. Arturius's blood ran cold: everything except a great hemisphere of that same blankness rising from the center of the city. Kicking his heels into his mount's ribs, he tried to urge it to move faster. They would not make it in time.

I shall not recoil before mine enemy.

They had to make it -- they would make it. The fields already behind them, they galloped past the city gates. Serim's location was given away by the black sphere, but even without it, they could feel the evil radiating from his heart.

I shall destroy evil in all of its monstrous forms.

Unsheathing his sword, Arturius steered Tempest with his knees, holding his weapon out to the side. He reached back for his shield, gripped it tightly, presenting the blue field with the arms of the Lightbringers. The valiant warrior tried to ignore the emptiness in the streets, for his sinking heart understood their cause.

I shall make war against darkness without cessation, and without mercy.

"'Without mercy,'" Arturius quoted to himself as they hurtled onward.

Rounding another bend in the street, the wall of blackness loomed before them. They continued, intending to charge straight through the curtain. With neighs of terror, though, both horses stopped and reared back. "Come on, Tempest! Go!" Arturius called out, but the horse wouldn't budge. Beside him, Jorland was having similar troubles.

Fear and anger and adrenaline still going strong, the paladins leapt from their mounts to continue on foot. Jorland cried out as he struck the wall of blackness, and seconds later, Arturius did as well. Darkness though it was, it was solid. A tingling, ice-cold burning sensation racked his body where he'd contacted the wall, even through his armor, forcing them both to gasp for breath.

Infuriated, Arturius lofted his family sword, whispering to himself, "Summ... May the day give Truth to eliminate the shadows!" His sword began to glow a bright hot white, and he thrust it into the dark curtain. The darkness recoiled, and Arturius pushed his way through.

"Art!" he heard Jorland call behind him.

I shall never abandon a friend, ally, or noble cause.

Despite his burgeoning desire to hurry onward, Arturius waited for his comrade, holding the darkness at bay, and together the two of them jogged through the dark void. Beside him, Arturius heard Jorland quietly praying, "Summ... May the night give Courage to those who must face the darkness."

At last, they broke through, back onto the city street. It was shrouded in darkness, but not the same unnatural void of light. The sphere of light shed from Arturius's sword expanded, illuminating the scene around them. Townspeople were there, crammed around the edges of the dome they were in. In the center, there stood a lone man, his back to them. Neither of the paladins needed extra light to know that his leather was blood-red: Serim, Minax's elite blood-letting lapdog. Arturius tightened his grip on his sword.

I shall never attack from behind.

"'I shall fight with honor,'" Arturius whispered to himself. He raised his voice. "It's over, Serim! Draw your weapon!" Without cessation, without mercy.

The lean, leather-enshrouded mage leapt in surprise. "What! How did you--?" He cut himself off and fired an energy bolt.

Arturius braced himself, but Jorland leapt in front of him and took the full force of the blow. Not wasting the chance, Arturius dashed forward. The greasy-haired nick drew a serpentine blade and dodged the paladin's first thrust. Serim made an attack of his own, but Arturius deflected it with his shield. Arturius brought his right foot up into Serim's kneecap, and pulled his sword back against the mage's side.

The blade didn't penetrate Serim's armor, and the mage retaliated with another thrust but his blade failed to penetrate Arturius' armor. The plated paladin took his opening, catching Serim's arm with his elbow and smashing his shield into the mage's unprotected face. Desperately, Serim kicked off Arturius's chest, managing to pull himself free but knocking himself onto the cobblestones. Arturius lifted his sword for the killing stroke.

I shall never use a weapon on an opponent not equal to the attack.

I shall not recoil before mine enemy.

While Arturius hesitated, Serim rolled to his feet. Shocked out of his opportunity, Arturius parried the murderer's kryss, and counter-thrusted as swiftly as he could. Spinning to the side, Serim managed to evade the sword point but took a gash to the side of his chest and also got another shield bash to the face. Reeling backward, his face bloodied, Serim half-crouched, then leapt forward with his kryss in front. Arturius side-stepped the attack and struck the handle of the serpentine sword, sending it flying.

Desperately, Serim held out both hands, fingers out, and unleashed arcs of lightning. Arturius' eyes shot open in shock as fiery torrents of pain rushed through his body, and he dropped both his sword and shield.

I shall be everywhere and always the champion of the right and the good against injustice and evil.

Arturius fought against the intense pain coursing through him and grabbed his dagger. Serim's eyes widened and then the pain took Arturius's breath away, but he still thrust with all the strength he could bring to bear.

The dagger clattered to the ground as Arturius struggled to hold himself up on one knee. The edges of his vision were turning gray. He didn't think he could last much longer. At first wary, Serim's face quickly turned to glee and he started laughing triumphantly.

"I shall fight with honor," Arturius managed to gasp, his eyes tightly shut against the torrents of agony awash inside him, "I shall... avenge the wronged. I shall... never... abandon a friend... ally... or noble cause!" The dark wizard's laughter only grew louder.

There was a sickening crunching noise, and Arturius cracked open one eye to see Serim's face twisting into a mask of pain. The lightning stopped as Serim went flying backward, rolling head over heels. Arturius could hear him gasping for breath and coughing up something wet, but could see none of it as Jorland was right there, pulling him to his feet.

Arturius reached down and snatched up his sword, ignoring the lingering pain. He turned to face Serim to see him lying on the ground, one arm clutching his ribs, the other held out toward them. Recalling their first encounter, Arturius tried to warn Jorland, "Watch out! Don't drop your guard!" It was too late, though.

With a loud ring, Serim's kryss thrust itself through Jorland's platemail, through the paladin's stomach. Jorland looked at the red steel sticking out his front, stunned, and then keeled over. "Jorland!" Arturius cried out.

I shall show loyalty to friends and those who lay their trust in me.

Desperately, Arturius dropped to his knees, calling out the words of power, "In Vas Mani," and placing his hands to his ally's armor. While the blue light still glowed, Arturius scooped up his sword once more and then turned to run toward Serim.

The mage had managed to get back to his feet, though he couldn't stand up straight and still clutched his ribs. "Stay back!" he yelled, then thrust his arm in an arc around the room. A townswoman from the crowd of hostages slid across the dome into his arm. Serim held her around the neck, holding Arturius' own dagger to her throat.

Arturius didn't hesitate -- he knew what to do.

Then, however, he saw Serim's kryss and his own shield also fly over to the mage, each protecting one side.

Stopping a few feet in front of Serim's hostage, Arturius tried to puzzle out a way to get to him. "It's over," Serim said in a choked voice. The dagger pointed upward, and Arturius risked a glance. Through the veil of darkness, the sun could be seen midway into the sky. Arturius was confused, until he saw the slowly moving shadow starting to form at the edge of the disc. Serim laughed, and then groaned in pain. "You can't stop me, and there's only a minute or less before the eclipse is complete. It's over, paladin."

Arturius remembered Will's words: "At all costs, kill him before the eclipse is complete." He looked at the bound and gagged woman Serim was holding. Her eyes were still young, innocent -- no more than a girl really. The pain and the fear in her tearful green eyes was nearly unbearable, but Arturius could not look away.

I shall respect all weaknesses, and shall constitute myself the defender of them.

"Why don't you do something, paladin?" Serim goaded.

I shall destroy evil in all of its monstrous forms.

She was biting into her gag, trying to keep from sobbing. The shadow covered a quarter of the sun.

I shall protect the innocent.

"What's stopping you?"

I shall not recoil before mine enemy.

The girl looked at him pleadingly. Half of the sun was now blackened.

I shall defend the weak and innocent.

Arturius looked around, at all the others within the dome. The eclipse was nearly complete.

I shall respect life and freedom.

Serim laughed.

I shall protect the innocent.

There was the echoing clang of metal on stone. The darkness dissipated, the dome faded. Light once more shone down on the city street.

There was utter silence among all there. No one moved.

After a long moment, Arturius lowered the blade of his sword, allowing both bodies to slide unceremoniously to the reddened cobblestones. The sword slipped out of his nerveless fingers, clattering to the ground.
 

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