“What do you mean?”

“We train Paladins every ten years because more are needed with each plague wave.” Meinos answered, a hint of fear in his voice.

“Ok, so what do we do.”  After seeing the orchard and the tree that marked his sister’s grave, Gabriel’s resolve to become a Paladin was stronger than ever.  “If I can prevent this orchard from becoming larger, I will.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.  There are still werewolves out there that need cleansing.”  Master Lear said, reminding Gabriel that the plague victims were victims of something crueler.

“Then I will hunt them, what will it take?”

“Well, you have to learn how to commit their bodies and souls to The One.  But, you have to learn what a Paladin is as well.”

“What do you mean?”

Cailin stepped forward and put his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder, who continued to look at the stone bearing his sister’s name.  “Being a Paladin is not just about killing werewolves.  You have to remember that these people,” Cailin spread his arms out, trying to encompass the entire orchard, “And those people still back in town, rely on you.  They expect you to protect them from all harm.”

“And hunting the werewolves will do that!”

“No!  At some point you are no longer a hunter.  Look at Lear,” Cailin chided.  “Do you see him out hunting the beasts, The One knows he still could.  No, you don’t.  He is now a man of this town, creating order for them, helping them survive day to day.  Do you know what he spends his days doing?  With as many of these trees that were planted because of him, he should be resting, but no, he still tends these people.  He settles their disputes.  He listens to their problems.  He wishes them well.  And he does it fairly. Can you do that?”

“I…I can try.”  Gabriel would not let them shake the determination he had.

“That is all I do,” Lear stepped forward and rested his hand on Gabriel’s other shoulder, speaking in a soft tone.

“But why aren’t you out there hunting the werewolves?”

“My place is here now.  You will understand some day.  Granted, if you put a werewolf in front of me I will make an effort to send it to meet The One.”  Gabriel had turned his head, and caught a glimpse of a returning fire to the old Paladin’s eyes.

Father Meinos stepped up and rest his hands on top of the other mens, the hands all leaving a heavy weight across Gabriel’s shoulders.  “That is enough for tonight.  Cailin, you and Lear go on, I wish to speak to Gabriel alone.”

Both men made to protest, but caught the glare in Meinos’ eyes and acquiesced.

Once Cailin and Lear were out of earshot and lost amongst the growing shadows of the orchard, Father Meinos spoke up.  “Do you realize how old I am Gabriel?”

“Um, I have never given it much thought Father,” Gabriel responded cautiously.

“Like Master Lear, I have seen over seventy harvests.  I came here when he called, as was my duty.  When it all comes down to it, Brother Cailin, Master Lear and I have much more than just our faith in The One in common, but there is one thing they share that I do not.”

“What is that Father?”  Gabriel followed Meinos as he began to walk along the same path that his other two mentors had previously taken.

“They have both survived the plague, I have not been touched.  Cailin would have been a Paladin if Sarin had not been the oldest that survived.  He is Atwan, and has interred many of the men and women here.  Remember that, there burden is nearing it’s end, yours is just beginning.”

“I will Father.  May I ask a question?  Do they feel it?”

“That the end for them is near, I hope so.”

“No, I mean the werewolves.  The people that they used to be.  Do they feel the pain they are in or the suffering they cause?”

“By The One, I would hope not.  No one could bear that burden.  But, honestly Gabriel, I do not know the answer.  We have tried to capture them, and they have always been blank inside, just animals.”

They passed the rest of the walk in silence, not encountering anyone else on the road.  By the time they made it back to the temple, the sun had finished setting and the solver moon had begun its slow dance across the sky.

“Father, thank you.  Thank you for showing me that.”

“It was nothing we should not have done sooner.  Forgive us that.”

“I do.”

“Get some rest tonight, for tomorrow, in addition to your smithing, you will begin work on your herb pouches.  Those will not take nearly as much time as the Dai’Sana, but they are equally important in the returning of people, like your sister, to there union with The One.”  Father Meinos dismissed Gabriel and walked off slowly towards the Rectory, the cold damp of the night beginning to effect his joints.

Gabriel walked past the stables, his breath visible in the torchlight that illuminated the way to the main building of the temple.  His mind wandered back to the moment he had made the marker for his sister’s grave.  He had felt a power flow through him, not just the power of the stones that would leave him exhausted, especially after he had managed to do the three older men’s chores.  The power he had felt was that of righteousness.  He had known that what he was doing was the right thing.  He knew that he could be a Paladin.  He knew he would have to make tough choices but he would try to be fair and impartial.  Just like Master Lear.  All Master Lear did was try.

Gabriel had been trying his whole life.  He had overheard Father Meinos telling both Cailin and Lear that fact.  He was good at trying.

The End

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