Benediction

Lear offered Gabriel a large piece of clean fabric.  “Keep this, it’s for your blades.”

Gabriel wiped his sword and the axe off onto the cloth, the red liquid had already begun to congeal on the blades.

“I guess now is as good a time as any to teach you how to conduct the body to The One.”  He turned to one of the other men standing around.  “Escort Varin back, and call for Cailin and the Atwans.”  As the man rode off, Varin in tow, Lear set about instructing Gabriel on how to conduct the rituals for the werewolf.

Solemnly, Gabriel straightened the body out.  Since the whole idea of being a Paladin had occurred, this was his first look at one of the creatures.  “Who was it?”

“A local farmer by the name of Ezekial, he was the first to fall to the plague.”

All four of Ezekial’s limbs had become long and gaunt, the flesh on the arms almost non-existent.  He was covered in a fine gray fur which was matted with his life-blood.  The head hang at an awkward angle due to the blow Gabriel had delivered with the axe, but in life, the creature had held it’s head tall, much like a man.  Ezekial’s eyes were dark as they stared at Gabriel.  Gabriel could not pull his gaze away, and finally a hand reached out and shut the dead man’s eyes.

Gabriel stifled a sniffle.  “Did he have any family?”

Lear realized where this line of questioning was going, he had asked it before.  “Yes, he had a wife and an infant son.  And now they are safe because of you.”

“But I took there…”

“No, he was no longer there father, you did what had to be done.  Now lets move on.  Grab one of his teeth.”

The young man reached into what had once been Ezekial’s mouth and grabbed ahold of one of the fangs.  Pulling, the tooth came out with a sickening squelch.  Gabriel waited for the squirt of blood that never came.

“Put that aside, there will be time enough for it soon.”

Gabriel retrieved the bag from his horse, which after the fight, one of the men had managed to track down.  Per Lear’s instructions, Gabriel removed one of the crimson satchels from his bag and pour its contents over the werewolves body.  The herbs, basil, aconite and lotus, the same ingredients that went into the making of the satchels themselves, spilled out.  Lear then handed Gabriel a flask and told him to pour the contents on the body.

Gabriel did as he was told, the thick smell of alcohol filling his nostrils.  “Is this the only way?”

“If you want to release them from the torment they are in, yes.  Now take your firestones, and finish the pyre.”

Crying for Ezekial’s family, Gabriel struck two stones together and a small flame appeared in the center of the dead beasts chest.  It quickly spread, feeding on the fur and the alcohol.  Soon Ezekial’s entire corpse was burning.

“Good, now to the Rite of Keeping.”

Gabriel took the fang from where he had set it and withdrew is Dai’Sana from the bag.  Numbly he made notches where the string would eventually go and then he etched Ezekial’s name into the tooth, the sharp point digging into the yellowing enamel.  Next, he carved the date into the tooth, followed by the Star of the One.  The carving finished, he re-sheathed the ritual blade and took out a piece of charcoal.  He traced over his etchings and soon the words were almost black against the yellowed fang.  Finally, he grasped an earth stone and finalized the process, making the writing permanent.

“Ok, now put the tooth in the pouch the herbs were in, and set it off to the side.  Work on the Rite of Remembrance now.”  Lear continued to stand over him, watching the young man as he stiffly removed the rolled up parchment from its tube and wrote Ezekial’s name and the date at the top of the scroll carefully.  A tear dripped off of Gabriel’s cheek and landed on the scroll, a poignant punctuation to the first entry.

“Now what?” Gabriel had wiped the tears from his eyes and had resolved himself to see the process through.

“There is still the Rite of Vision left.” Lear nodded, seeing the determination in the young man’s eyes.

Gabriel retrieved his shield from where it still lay, where it had fallen off of his arm during the struggle, and, using a water stone, cleaned the dirt and blood off of it.  Looking at the fire, he noticed that it had begun to subside, the corpse almost completely reduced to a pile of bone and ashes.

The Atwan’s that had arrived while he was working on the Rites stepped forward and began to collect the ash and bones into the Hardow’n bags, the black sack for the ashes and the green sack for the bones of the dead.  The last item to be picked up was the wolf-like skull, the hollow sockets still seeming to stare at Gabriel.

Now that the body was removed, Gabriel used the water stone to dampen the ground where Ezekial’s had rested and used the soupy mud to scribe the dead man’s name onto his shield.  Passing an earth stone over the writing, Gabriel checked it with his fingernail, and after it did not scrape off, nodded towards Lear.  “It is done.”

“There is one final thing to do with the fang.”

Gabriel nodded again and buried the pouch containing the tooth where Ezekial’s head had rested.  “When do I retrieve it?”

“You can dig it up at first sun in the morning.  Then the Ancient Trilogy will be complete, and Ezekial will be remember by not only us, but by The One as well.  You fought bravely and you conducted yourself well.”

“I did not want to kill it.”

“But it would have killed you if you had done nothing.”

“I know.”

The End

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