The road had been long, but most roads were in hindsight. Dust coated the figure who sat the horse of an indeterminate brown, clearly a warrior's horse, but the figure on its back sat hunched over enough that little enough could be determined just from a quick glance. A closer look, however, would suggest the figure was probably male, although relatively slim. A closer look revealed a longsword poking below the edge of the dusty cloak that hid most of the figure. The boots were scraped and scuffed, but had been of decent quality when they'd been new. The cloak, likewise, had been good material at one time but today it looked the worse for wear. The saddle, on the other hand, was still in good shape. Obviously well cared for, just as the horse looked like it had been cared for as much as possible, all the leather of the tack supple and well oiled, clean aside from dust. All in all, the figure may have fallen on hard times, or may have journeyed far, but he was still doing alright. The bredth of the shoulders suggested that he could still defend what was his, also, if that should become necessary.
Tristan straightened in the saddle and silver eyes scanned the small town as the horse continued to plod wearily forward. As the head lifted the hood of the cloak fell back, revealing black curly hair and pale skin that revealed origins somewhere to the West, perhaps from one of the great city states even. The face was handsome, just this side of pretty, and masculine although young and clean-shaven. An observer might wonder whether Tristan had long been able to claim manhood and just how thick his whiskers grew if he did not shave them.
Of course, any observer who thought that a man sat the horse would be mistaken in a fundamental way, although the mistake was one that Tristan cultivated. For Tristan was no man. No, a woman sat the horse. There was a trick there, and not one of makeup or false padding. No, the illusion went deeper for illusion it was. Tristan was the servant of the goddess Kasha, goddess of light, and as a boon from her deity she had chosen to hide her sex. To the world, she was a man unless she chose to let the illusion fall. It was a choice she made, on occasion, but rarely. The occasional time wandering through a city, a reminder that when she had been younger she had worn dresses. A reminder that, as her goddess had warned her, one day the illusion would be broken and she would be as she was, not as she appeared.
To all intents and purposes, Tristan appeared to be a man. The illusion would not be broken by magic, unless it be by the magic of another deity. To any sense Tristan would seem a man, even unclothed. Even she forgot sometimes that the body she apparently wore was not her own. Her face was a slightly more masculine version of her true visage, her shoulders a touch broader, her hips more than a touch slimmer, and her chest significantly flatter. As a woman she was striking, and well curved. As a man she was slimmer, lean, muscular without being bulky. All in all, the differences were minimal. Still the same mouth, the same eyes and nose. Still the same height and colouring, the same strength and bearing. It was, however, a difference she clung to. She dreaded the day Kasha's prophecy would come true and through some unknown circumstance the illusion would be broken.
She could release the illusion at will and had to for one day of every year, but in such circumstances she could regain the illusion. If, however, her concentration were broken enough that she could no longer hold to the illusion whether through pain, exhaustion, an overwhelming emotional upheaval, or - most unlikely of all - through an acceptance of herself, the illusion would be broken forever. It would not be regained through any means, and Tristan would be revealed to all as she truly was. It was something she hoped never came and guarded against as much as she could. But one day it would happen.
The choice to venture through life as a man rather than a woman had been difficult, but not that difficult. She had run from home as a youth, wanting more than to be bartered off as a brood mare. Although women could be warriors, could even serve the deities as something other than a priestess or a temple whore, it was still rare. More, it was not something her father would have accepted. When one's father was a rule, one was most often considered an asset of the state. Her marriage was to be the cement for yet another alliance. The fact that Tristan had wanted none of it, had wanted only to be a warrior, to defend others and test her own skills, enjoy her craft was something that had been beneath the notice of a father conscious of the needs of his people.
And so she had run. Straight to a temple of Kasha where she had offered her life to the goddess, asking only the protection of disguise. To hide her from her father and those who would return her to him. To hide her from those who would think her weak or lesser simply because she was a woman. The boon had been granted, along with it a call to service that came with obligations and abilities.
Some might call her a paladin. She cared little for labels. She was a servant who was the strong arm of the goddess when others could not defend themselves. She brought light to those held in the dark, and fought where she was called, whether it be in a war or something a little less obvious.
Ahead she saw a small temple to Kasha, a welcome sign that she was returning to more familiar lands. It was to that temple that she turned. Having spent many months fighting the encroaching hordes who sought to establish dominance over this land and take its people, its wealth in crops and land and gold, and its gods, she welcomed the respite of time spent in silent communion with Kasha. The hordes were dangerous, and their deities were powerful. Although she knew people were told not to worry, that the hordes would never triumph, Tristan had to wonder. Would it be true, or would there come a day when the waves would crash over this land she knew? And if that happened, what would become of the deities who drew strength from their followers? And what deities would take their places? The little she knew of the religion of the hordes suggested an earth-based religion, something tied heavily to nature, although all she had seen were the destructive elements. Was there more?
She cleared those thoughts from her head as she slipped from her horse, brushing some dust from her clothing before letting the reins fall into the dust. It was a clear sign to Shimaron to remain where he was, a command the horse would hold to regardless of who thought otherwise. A trained warhorse, he was well able to care for himself. And so Tristan entered the dim interior of the temple through the open door. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, and she felt the humour she always felt over the fact that the goddess of Light chose for her temples to be left with only minimal lighting. What light filtered through windows and the doors during the day, and only minimal candles at night. The truest light came from the eternal flame that rested on the altar, a flame that burned through the power of the goddess alone.
Seeing no priest or priestess, nor acolytes, she approached the alter to kneel before it, bowing her head. Allowing the trance to come upon her, she released her will and simply sought solace from her goddess.
You have fought long, my Daughter. It has been hard on you, but know that one day you will have peace. The voice was soft in her mind, an easy and comforting presence within her core. To hear the goddess was rare, but it was a welcome gift that helped ease some of the weariness from her.
No words for Tristan, merely an outpouring of all she had been through, of her dedication and trust. A release, and a seeking for guidance. The question always what her goddess would have of her, what direction she should take.