“How could it have turned so wrong?” Thought William, “First the undead drive us from our homeland, then the waves of Mordok come down upon us with unending ferocity, trapping us within our walled cities as though besieged. Treaties are violated, the Ulven talk of war, and now there’s a lich here. It is a nightmare that just gets worse and worse.”
William reached for the dispatch from Nightriver territory. In addition to the appearance of the Lich weighing heavily upon him, the Ulven of clan Grimward had shed human blood. An entire village was slaughtered with no chance to defend themselves. There were already rumors of an army mobilizing for a counter attack into Ulven territory, led by the Order of Arnath. Raskolf Vakr, the Watchwolf ambassador, had asked William to help him organize a delegation to attend a peace summit in Grimward territory before anyone did anything stupid, like march an army across the border. William of Vandregon would not be attending in person, as he was instead to appear before the Order on a separate, but related diplomatic mission. Namely, he was to delay the war with the Ulven, and carry a report which would confirm the rumors of the undead which had certainly reached them by now. In his place, William had hand-picked trusted delegates from New Hope to attend the summit.
William had no proper writing desk, and so sat staring at the surface of a humble wooden table, a blank piece of parchment staring back at him. Since arriving back in New Hope, his mind had been troubled with the visions of what he had seen outside that abandoned fort.
“They rose. We cut them down and they rose again. I saw them with my own eyes. They were dead, the life in them gone. But yet they rose, gathered weapons and fought back. Our doom has followed us here. Those Watchwolves were right, and now, they ask me to bring humanity together. How? I’m a Soldier, not a diplomat like Raskolf. Our people are divided, just as before. If history is to repeat itself… well, it cannot. There is nowhere left to run.”
William reached for his mead and took a long swig.
“Pull it togethe,r William,” he whispered to himself. “Your people need you now more then ever. Our enemies are beating down our door, and we are at each others throats. We must unite or we will be picked apart.”
“But they were right, dammit!” he said out loud, slamming his fist on the table and knocking his bottle of mead to the floor.
William buried his head in his hands.
“They were right about what would happen, and they were right about us. We are a doomed race. Have our gods abandoned us?”
“William of Vandregon!” boomed a powerful voice behind him, startling him and causing him to spill his inkwell onto a pile of documents and maps.
“Please forgive me, Father.” William said, spinning on the bench to face Father Aegeus, the old cleric from Crow’s Landing.
“We all have our doubts, William,” snapped the old man, “but in your case, such a thing must be your burden alone. Too many look to you for inspiration and leadership, sir knight. Were the men you lead to see you in such a moment of doubt, they could lose all hope. Trust me, William. I know. I’m a shepherd myself, after all, and being a man of the cloth isn’t so different from being a military leader as people might think. When the skies darken, and the enemy is breaking down the door, our flocks look to us. We are, in their blackest hour, their last hope. These missions are perhaps the most important tasks that you and I will ever perform in the service of humanity.”
“Yes, Father Aegeus. Thank you.”
“Now, sir knight, please walk with me that you might introduce me to these other delegates you have selected, and this Raskolf of the Watchwolves.”
“Of course, Father.”
After the two left the room, the silence was broken only by the patter of ink running off the desk and onto William’s map of Mardrun, which had fallen to the floor. The blackness silently spread unchecked across the new world, until no amount of blotting or sanding could possibly remove it.
“By the way, Father,” said William, “Please don’t call me that.”
“Call you what, sir knight?” chuckled the old cleric.
“That, Father. I don’t make my men call me that, and I don’t feel that an honored elder such as yourself should call me that either. I’m just a Soldier. I fight because I believe that all men are created with certain inalienable rights. I fight for equality. Equality, you see, is the keystone of unity, and unity is the key to our survival. Humanity must not make the same mistake twice.”
“And yet, sir knight,” said the cleric, “you call me Father.”
“It is your title.”
“Oh? Is it now?” smiled Father Aegeus, “I thought you respected me.”
“Father!” exclaimed William, “Of course I respect you. It is a title that you have earned through a life dedicated to selfless service and personal sacrifice for the benefit of others!”
“Exactly, sir knight.” Said the cleric, “And as I said before, the role of a preacher is not so different from that of a military leader. Can you not see that you have embarked on a similar road to my own? William, your men love you. They are inspired by you. The bonds of brotherhood that you share with them were forged in battle, where they looked to you for guidance and survival. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that. In fact, to make use of your title would further the cause for which you stand by helping you to gain influence with the Lords and Ladies.”
“No offense, Father,” said William, “in fact, beg your pardon for what I am about to say, but I detest politics. I am a Soldier. I don’t want to have anything to do with the Lords and Ladies of New Hope, and in fact, I feel that they are part of the problem. The arrogance of the upper class was what caused our alliance on Faedrun to fall. I am not like that. I am a Soldier.”
Father Aegeus ground his teeth and took a deep breath.
“Fine then, William.” He said, “Many are called, but some just don’t have the stomach to do the right thing. Get back in the ranks, then, and stop standing in front. You’ll be in good company.”
“Go stand watch on the walls, or something, Soldier.”
“Peace be with you, William.”
Before William could respond, Father Aegeus had pushed open the door to the ballroom where the rest of the delegation awaited, and the sounds of chamber music, laughter, and idle chatter drifted into the hallway with the yellow light. The door swung back, bouncing a few times on the frame, until William of Vandregon found himself standing alone in the shadow, clenching his fists.
William went out on the ramparts to get some air. Venator met him on the wall.
“Come to check on the troops, sir?” asked the Ulven Myrmidon.
“Yes. That’s it.” sighed William, “Let us walk together.”
“So,” said Venator, as they made there way down the ramparts, “do we have any idea what they have planned for us?”
“What do you mean?”
“In the dinner that we are guarding, sir.” said Venator, “Do you have any word on what they are talking about down there? Do we know what our role is to be, besides serving as messengers to Starkhaven? Are we to be used as escort guards? Some of the others were asking how secure the roads are in this area since humanity’s old foes have returned. I told them I did not know, but that you would probably be able to tell us soon.”
William stopped walking.
“You know what, Venator?” he said, placing an arm upon his friend’s shoulder, “You check on the troops. I have other duties that I must attend to.”
William went to his study. He stared at the blank piece of parchment in front of him for a moment, then fetched a new inkwell.
“When in the course of human events and human survival it becomes necessary to reassess the political bonds which have in the past failed to protect the people of whom said institutions have been allowed to govern…” he began, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
When he was done, he dried the ink, rolled up the scroll, and changed into clean clothes.
They had just finished serving hors’d’oeuvres. Father Aegeus had saved him a seat.