Paladin, despite the thin layer of cynical disgust that clouded his vision, could not help but admire the timeless beauty that unfolded with each new paved avenue and every high tower. Monolithic in its appearance, surely clever craftsmen would have coveted such a spectacle they had once created. Those divine halls hidden behind stout walls of granite seclusion, the crypt of royal decree was, maybe, the single most beautiful building the travel worn swordsmen had ever seen. And, perhaps, many who may have seen such equal splendor would be overwhelmed by such potent testimony to the kingdoms seat of power. Paladin though was not.
With each of the seven great towers that rose above, every one a spear piercing the heart of heaven in some belligerent defiance, each delicate fountain and well manicured garden, each drop of precious water that guarded and secured, Paladin ruminated upon the sheer cost of maintenance of such regality. The pomp, in some minds, may have whispered security of the nation into the ears the the citizenry. For what could be thought of a nation whose seat of power was unkempt or simple? But could not the same funds that kept that heaven-behind-a-moat be better used to the benefit of the people? Could not each and every family be fed, clothed and kept on such a price? The seat of power was built on the backs of the low...
Shaking his head, his wild mess woody and coppery curls came to life like dozens if tiny serpents. Paladin grew tired of the horrible beauty of the palace. Clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth he tugged softly on the reigns of his white speckled horse, who begrudgingly tore his face away from a particularity juicy patch of clover. “Maybe,” Paladin mumbled to his silent companion, “...it is not all bad.” From his cursory explorations the people of Andaris seem content. Many fat and happy in their simple loves, adoring their daily grind and anemic ignorance. “Come Baron. We have other gods to witness...”
It was not for the bitter taste of royal decadence that Paladin had drifted this high above the city. But instead for communion with higher ideas. Turning from the bank of that dirty moat, the stone faced swordsmen lead his beast across the open roads and towards that gigantic home of worship that loomed against the back drop of the overcast Rynmerian sky. It was of strange form in his green eyes. Tall tiers tearing brilliant rents in the gray sky, thick buttresses wearing garlands of flag and flowers and gold, colorful windows shimmering in chromatic dances as they glittered in the silver sequins of a diffused sun. Massive stone guardians high above, their eyes locked upon the two dozen low stone steps that lead to the massive wooden threshold. At least the opulence here served the people.
Tying Baron's leads to a stout pole, the horse seemed to enjoy the presence of his own kind that other parishioners had left. Slowly, without hurry or fear, Paladin made the short pilgrimage towards the thick wooden doors, admiring the skilled reliefs depicting events and myths he did not know. Cabel had directed Paladin here after learning, in brevity, of the swordsmens fatigue of the Immortals. “The people of Rynmere worship men...” he said. “Seven gods, each a hero and noble. Kind gods.” Paladins evergreen eyes drifted upward as he ascended, meeting the glowering statues above the entrance of the old cathedral, before slipping silently past the giant wooden doors.
Past the threshold of heavens gate, the sight that unfolded took the breath from the foreigners lungs. Ceilings as high as the stars rose in smooth archs above, crissed and crossed by brilliant dark wooden beams far older than he could imagine possible. Massive multicolored windows, back lit by ambient sun light, told timeless tales of seven man gods that founded the kingdom on ideals of mortals. A cool breeze flowed, carrying loitering motes of dust and the sweet scent of incense, washing each new arrival in purity. But it was not the scents, nor the beauty of the eye, that brought the hairs on Paladin's neck to stand. But the singing.
From deep with the heart of the holy, words dancing off ancient stone walls like a delicate ballet, the chants of the pious and merciful bathed the swordsmen in the aura of mortal grace. With each ivory word strung on silver thread, each careful tonal shift and drawn note, the brilliance of the divine swept through Paladin's heart. And though the words themselves were not known to the swordsmans ear, the meaning was well understood. A beauty far exceeding the most ostentatious of palace, a nobility greater than the deed of any hero, a mercy more brilliant that any deserved, it was here in these ancient halls that Paladin once again was consumed by the Awe.
For a time he stood. Letting the monks words fill his ears and feed his soul. And though their gods might be different, and their philosophy irreconcilable, none could deny of simple purity of the faithful. Nor the love they had for their faith.
“Child? Are you well.”
Paladin's eyes opened quickly, jarred from his trance by the soft words of the elder man before him. “Yes. Thank you.”
The monk watched under furry gray brows as the warrior before him came to his wits, a warm welcoming half smile etched across his wizened features. “You are not from Rynmere, are you?”
“I am not.”
For a moment the monk appraised the travel worn warrior, unjudging and attentive his brilliant blue eyes carefully extracting great detail in brief moments. “You are from inland? The Eternal Empire?”
“How...” Paladin shifted nervously, his hand instinctively priming to unleash the sword at his side. “I am. How...”
The monk motioned to the sword handing at Paladin's side. “Don't fear. All are welcome in the house of the Seven.” the monk paused tentatively approaching the obvious, “Would not your Empress be less... welcoming?” Despite the question, the monks voice echoed with true concern.
“We... no longer stand eye to eye...” Paladins hand rose to his roughly shaven chin, wiping an embarrassing tear. “There is great beauty here.”
The monk smiled. “Would you care to walk with me?” turning, the old mans robes drew a thin eddy of dust from the smooth floors. With slow steps he did not wait for the swordsmen to follow, but instead left the option free for choosing.
Paladin could not deny. He followed the monk carefully, suddenly keenly aware of the heavy sound his feet made atop the clear lacquered floor tiles.
“Tell me Child, what do you know of Rynlism?”
“Little. It is said you worship men as gods. Adherence to seven virtues, each carried by one of the founders of your land.”
The monk did not break his pace as he looked over his shoulder. “Little indeed.” it was not an accusation that slipped from the old mans lips. Nor a harsh judgment. But instead it was sadness. “In some sense, worship may be too strong a word. The Seven are our... guides. They have shown us a way that we cherish. As a child loves their parents, we love the Seven. Their ideals codified in the Creed of Silence to show us their way.”
“I understand this.” And indeed Paladin did. “Tell me more of your Creed.” it was obvious in his gait that Paladin began to relax. His eyes wandered the ancient monastery as he listened, hinging on every word of the holy man as a wonder eyed child.
They came to a slow stop, his gnarled hand gesturing wide towards the massive bench pew that sat under the exquisite stained portrait of Burhan. “That is quite a topic Child. But I would be happy to speak on it, to the best of my ability. The Creed of Silence is a document, handed to us by our forefathers. Its pages detail the Seven Virtues of Rynlism, as well as stories of the Sacred Seven meant to guide the reader unto a holy life.” from the folds of his massive grey-blue cloak, the monk produced a thick leather tome. As he sat on the pew, he placed the book atop his lap. Idly his fingers began to turn the pages.
“Is this Creed free to all?” Paladin asked as he sat beside the monk. The warmth of the chromatic glow behind was pleasant upon his shoulders.
“Of course. Though, with humility, we suggest that one studies both in private and under the tutelage of a monk.”
The monk smiled. The question was fair. “Though on the surface the Seven Virtues may seem simple, life is very rarely so. We believe that to gain the greatest understanding from the Creed of Silence, one must understand some nuance within its words. The best teachers of this nuance reside in these walls, as we monk have dedicated our lives to understanding the Seven Virtues.” the monk lovingly stroked the spine of the book.
“Tell me of these Virtues.” Paladin's tone was perhaps more demanding than he wished. His mind was hungry for the knowledge, heart withing to be filled with the acclaimed wisdom of holy men.
“Thou Shalt Discover. Rynmere, as is known, was a land found by the intrepid and curios. But discovery is not limited to the physicality of the world. Thou Shalt Discover the Creed of Silence, shalt discover the soul of yourself. The mysteries of the world all in all wait to be uncovered. “
“It is a good goal.”
“Thou Shalt be Just. Every action, every word, must be considered and weighed. Both to act in accordance of the Law, as well as promote a well being of the all. Only the most cruel and heinous crimes should be met with violence.”
Paladin nodded, “Agreed. It is a sad thing to ever have to resort to such extreme measures...”
“Indeed. But it's wisdom to know when such measures are warranted. Which brings us to, Thou shalt seek Knowledge. Some see this as relating but independent of discovery. To gather wisdom on a thing I not always to understand its being.”
Again Paladin nodded. “In my mind, perhaps the most important of all things is to Know.”
“You have the making of a monk in you,” the old man teased as his eyes drifted to the stained glass behind him. “To understand is sacred.” Pausing for a moment, the old man licked his lips “Thou shalt not Forget.”
Paladin shifted, his green eyes drifting towards the smooth stones below as his finger drifted across his blade.
Sensing the mans sudden comfortableness, the monk continued. “Thou shalt Conquer...”
The monk repeated, “Thou shalt Conquer. It is the virtue of Warrick, our Patron of War.”
“I was a citizen of the Eternal Empire, I know conquer as a mother knows the hairs atop her child. Why?” Paladin swallowed hard as the silent cry of the Norn echoed through the great hall of the Monastery.
“To war is not to, itself be cruel. War can save lives and assure bounty. War is a sadness that is...”
“No!” Paladin stood quickly as the ghostly white raven landed were he once sat. “There is no virtue in war. No nobility in murder! The sundering of one life is to slay centuries of joy. War is cruelty by its very definition.”
“You misunderstand Child. This is why we monks wish to help others understand the Creed.”
“Do not twist words monk, there is no understanding the horror of war! It is madness of the mind, a sickness of the soul!” By now Paladin's voice began to raise, a mixture of anger and confusion ricocheting off the body of the stained window. “How could a faith so... beautiful condone such... monstrosity?”
“Child. Please calm. You are upset.”
“Tyrant!” the Norn screamed
“Yes! The awe which you so willingly shared was perverted by ideals of tyrants! To conquer is to dominate, mortals souls were never meant to submit! Our very nature is freedom!”
“Fool!” the Norn lamented.
“Domination is a strong word, but such is how we keep those we love safe from harm. Understand child, there are forces that wish harm, no?”
“Do not speak of domination!” Paladin spat, “Those are the same rationalizations used by Raskalarn and her bloody march to all consuming power! Do not tell me you worship mortals, monk! When I, as an outsider cannot see the difference between your man-gods and the monstrosities we call Immortals.”
“That is unfair,” the monks eye drifted past Paladin catching the off duty guard who's worship had been disturbed by the agitated traveler. Giving the man a soft nod, his gaze returned to the inflamed foreigner. “The Immortals manipulate and twist men to do their bidding...”
“Is that not the very function of your Creed? To control! Your cults of men are no better than the mad goals of murderous death gods. Raskalarn, Sintra, Faldrun, Chrien, Famula, Lisirra, each more cruel and monstrous than the next! Whores to their own arrogance and desires! And then your “Saint” Warrick. Part of this pantheon of horror inflicted upon mortals since the first!”
The monk remained silent. His faith was unshaken, but what did disturb him was the strangers conviction. The swordsmen spoke words that he, despite reality, considered as true as the sun was bright. A zealotry of philosophy and madness of mercy consumed him. The monk nodded softly. This child was obviously seeking something. Something which the Creed may help find. But such anger was undoing him. Perhaps, with another, the monk may have called to have the person escorted from the grounds, but he had sympathy for this foreigner. There was a brightness in the mans heart, a compassion which the monk had only ever seen in the most innocent of children. A thirst for understanding and kindness and mercy that would never be quenched. For a long moment the monk waited, carefully formulating his next words as Paladin waited, fuming.