Tales of the Seventh
Part Three
Chapter Six
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Marc Alan Edelheit MAE Novels Historically Accurate Fantasy at its Best

“Thank you, Garvus.” Stiger took the full canteen from the legionary. It dripped with water. The legionary had drawn the water from the well, using a battered and weighted bucket that had been attached to an old worn rope. A low, waist-high wall built of cemented fieldstones ringed the well. The rope attached to the bucket was secured to a badly rusted iron ring that had been hammered into one of the stones at the base of the well.

Stiger made sure the canteen was tightly stopped and shook the excess water free.

“You’re welcome, sir,” Garvus said. He had placed the nearly full bucket on the stone wall and immediately began filling the next canteen from amongst six that needed to be filled. It was a race. The bucket was in such poor condition that water sprayed and leaked from numerous holes. It was a wonder it managed to hold any water at all.

Stiger moved off a few paces to allow the legionary room to work. With practiced ease, the legionary deftly secured the canteen to his armor harness. Until coming upon this small farm, they’d not seen any water for several hours. On a route march, that was bad, and Stiger became concerned as canteens began to run dry, his included. Once he’d seen the farm and its well, he had immediately taken advantage of his good fortune and ordered a halt to the march.

Stiger glanced around the small farm as a chill breeze swept around him and ruffled his cloak. The farm was on the smallish side. The farmhouse was a one-room affair, constructed like the well, field stone cemented together. Some of the cement had cracked and begun to crumble. The roof was angled and grass-thatched. It had a crude look to it, but for the family that lived here it was undoubtedly home and well-loved.

Without having to look inside, Stiger figured the floor of the farmhouse was probably dirt and not planked. The thought of it soured his mood. He could never envision himself living on a farm, ever. It was a life that was not for him. He looked over at the barn. It, too, was on the small side, but more than sufficient to harbor the animals at night and keep them safe from predators.

Two good-sized pens had been built right up against the barn wall that faced the house. One of the pens was made of rough-hewn wood slats. The other had been constructed using field stones stacked together to make the walls that were around four feet in height.

There was a well-fed hog in the pen with the wood slats and a several geese in the stone one. The geese honked loudly, as if alarmed by the legionaries’ arrival. He could not blame them for being disturbed. With how isolated the farm was, he was sure they did not see many visitors.

On the other side of the barn was a vegetable garden that could be better described as a small patch. Beyond the garden lay a medium-sized field. It looked as though the farmer was growing some sort of bean and wheat. Half of the wheat had already been harvested and lay tied tightly in bundles in the bed of a wagon, which was parked to the right of the barn.

As a single-family farm went, it was far from true civilization. The people who lived here were poor, but better off than many he had seen in his travels. Stiger rubbed his jaw as he considered the farm. All it would take was a poor harvest, combined with a hard winter, to ruin these people.

Less than a half mile away stood the forest. It was like a dark green wall that stretched out in either direction for as far as the eye could see. So far from any town or village, there was little protection afforded to the farm. A village would at least have a militia, which would actively hunt bandits or highwaymen. Stiger hoped there were none about. Bandits could easily make life a whole lot worse for the people who lived here. Then again, being so far from civilization might be a protection in and of itself.

Taking in the farm, Stiger decided this was not a life he would ever care to live. And yet, despite such abject conditions, it was a free life. The farmer and his family were undoubtedly proud citizens of the empire. It was something Stiger could well respect, especially considering his family’s roots lay in farming.

Stiger turned his gaze over to Tiro, who was conversing with the farmer at the farmhouse door. The farmer was a big man in his thirties with muscular arms. His tunic was old, patched in numerous places, but clean and free of dirt. He had thick eyebrows and a bushy brown beard that had been cropped just below his chin.

The man’s family was nowhere to be seen. At the first sight of the legionaries, the family had most likely fled. The thought made Stiger a little angry. That they felt the need to hide from the very men who were tasked with protecting them made Stiger more than a little uncomfortable.

They had nothing to fear from Stiger and his men. Sadly, the same could not be said of other officers, who, when away from the sight of higher command, frequently abused their authority and took what they wanted from poor people like these. That included food, money, and even the womenfolk. So, the farmer’s family had done the only sensible thing and that was to run, hide, and pray the legionaries moved on without too much trouble.

“A good life,” Father Griggs said, coming up to Stiger. The paladin clapped his hands together as he gazed about the farm. “An honest living, farming.”

“A hard living,” Stiger said.

“True enough,” Griggs said. “Farming is not the easiest of lives. That said, drawing forth a bounty from the soil is noble work. It says so in the scripture. Honored are the farmers who sow and pull life from the soil.”

“That may be so, but it is also a life of constant fear,” Stiger said, suddenly realizing what had soured his mood.

The paladin shot Stiger a slight scowl.

“I don’t know if I’d say fear. Perhaps worry would be a better word,” Griggs said after a moment. He smoothed out his priestly robes, which he wore over his chainmail armor. The armor underneath chinked softly with the motion. “In a way, it is not all that different from a life in the legions, concern or worry-wise.”

“Are you trying to tell me fear, concern, and worry are universal? Because I’ve already figured that out.” Stiger wondered what the paladin was getting at.

The paladin gave a nod. “Something like that, but my meaning was somewhat different.”

“Before I came to serve with the Seventh,” Stiger said, “I would never have noticed or really even cared about people like these.”

“And now?”

“Now, I know different. I’ve seen different. I’ve changed.” Stiger waved vaguely toward the farmhouse. Tiro was still in deep conversation with the famer a few yards away. What they were talking about, Stiger had no idea, but it certainly seemed to have caught Tiro’s interest. The farmer pointed and gestured down the road. Tiro looked that way and gave a nod, then seemed to ask a question in return.

Stiger’s eyes moved past the farmhouse to scan the yard. The men, taking advantage of the unexpected break, lounged about, talking, catching a cat nap, or rolling dice. A couple poked through their haversacks, looking for a snack.

Stiger looked back on the paladin. “So far from a settlement, these people live in fear. They fear for a poor harvest, the weather, bandits, wolves…unlike them, I don’t live with constant fear. And yet, at the same time I find it is as you say. In a manner of speaking, they are not too dissimilar from myself, barring education, and culture.”

“Some would call that breeding,” Griggs said.

“I don’t much hold with breeding,” Stiger said and spat upon the ground. “Not anymore.”

“A noble,” Griggs said, seeming amused by the comment, “not caring about breeding?”

“Some of the worst bastards I’ve known had the best breeding. Take Tribune Declin, for example. His breeding was damn fine. That didn’t stop him from getting a great many men killed.”

“No,” Griggs agreed. “It didn’t.”

“My father didn’t give a fig about breeding either,” Stiger said. “He couldn’t afford to. The best he could do for himself was my mother, his wife, after all.”

“Your mother?” Griggs asked, confused, bushy brows drawing together. “I don’t understand.”

“She hailed from a farm like this one,” Stiger said, feeling suddenly bitter at the thought of his mother and what had happened to her. “You see, when my father came to age, the family was bankrupt. We were deep in debt. Our once powerful and prestigious name was nothing but ash on the wind, almost like it is now, but I must concede possibly better polished.”

Stiger paused to scratch at an itch on his arm. After the last few hours of marching, he was coated with dust from the road. He needed a bath, and badly. He knew he would not see one until he reached civilization. The best he could hope for was a river, lake, or pond.

“We were so ruined at the time,” Stiger continued, “no grand manor, no true estate to call home, that not a single woman of breeding would consider Marcus Stiger a suitable match, except for my mother. And her family was just as beggared as my father’s. Some of the most eligible women the empire had to offer spurned my father’s advances, considering him beneath them. After what he achieved before his disgrace, it’s hard to believe that now, isn’t it?”

“So, your father joined the legion,” Griggs surmised. “He went in search of fame, fortune, and prestige?”

“He did. Somehow, he managed to scrape together the funds needed to purchase a lieutenant’s commission.” Stiger gestured at the farm about them. “Well…he was stationed near my mother’s farm at the garrison of Tol’kight. She was of noble birth, a daughter of a great yet disgraced house. Her father squandered what little fortune he had. My mother’s family lost everything to the creditors, but one small bit of land, which they turned into a farm, not much unlike this one.”

“I thought your mother was the emperor’s sister?” Griggs asked.

“Half-sister,” Stiger said. “My grandmother was briefly married to the man who would become emperor. That was before he cast her aside for another, the current emperor’s mother.”

“Ah, yes,” Griggs said, snapping his fingers. “Her family was involved in that little matter in Lorium, weren’t they?”

“Little? It ruined my mother’s family,” Stiger said.

Griggs did not reply to that, but instead remained silent. The paladin gave a nod for Stiger to continue. Stiger’s thoughts shifted back to his father, who had retained his mother’s farm, leasing it out to renters. He had made sure the young Ben Stiger visited the farm on a regular basis and spent some time working in the fields with the renters. It had been meant as a lesson, in that no matter how great a house, the fall to poverty and disgrace was never that far away.

“Well, long story told short,” Stiger continued, tasting bitterness, “Marcus Stiger noticed her on market day and I guess one thing led to another.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Griggs asked.

“I am telling you because I want you to understand that I understand what it’s like to live in constant fear. I know what it’s like to live like this, to work the land. My father made sure I understood.”

Father Griggs did not say anything to that.

“At the start of the civil war, my father was away with his army and, unknown to us, about to lead the great rebellion. He gave no thought or consideration to what could have happened to us. My mother, sister, and I, unaware of what was about to happen, were rousted from our beds and forced to flee the capital in the middle of the night. We left everything behind, and I mean everything. Had it not been for loyal servants and retainers, I would not be standing here today.” Stiger paused. The memories he was dredging up were painful. “We were hunted, hounded, and pursued for weeks on end, until at last we were able to reach the relative safety of an allied legion. And even then, the attacks upon us, vile assassination attempts, did not stop. For weeks, I lived in fear that we’d be caught, tortured, and killed, or murdered in our beds while we slept.”

“I see,” Griggs said.

“Do you?” Stiger asked, becoming heated. He seriously doubted that, but took a breath to calm himself down, for what had happened to him in his youth was not the paladin’s fault. “After my mother’s death, I swore I’d never let fear take me so again, as it did in those dark days.”

Griggs did not immediately respond. “And are you now free of fear?”

“No,” Stiger admitted grudgingly. “However, when needed, I can manage the fear.”

“As do we all,” Father Griggs said, “as do we all. It is our experiences and choices which make us into the person we become.”

Stiger glanced around the farm again. “No one should have to live in constant fear.”

“I could not agree more,” Griggs said, “and yet many do. One day, perhaps that will change.”

Stiger looked back to the farmhouse. Tiro had finished up his conversation with the farmer. The sergeant shook hands with the man and then walked over to Stiger and Griggs.

“Sir,” Tiro said, “that farmer, Darius, was a veteran of Fourth Legion. Some good boys in the Fourth. He took his pension and bought this here land. Said he’d never have done it had he known war would come so close. Still”—the sergeant paused and glanced back at the farmer—“I don’t understand his thinking. Even without a war, I’d not settle so far away from everyone else and a good tavern, even if the land was dirt cheap. I like my drink too much and the company of friends. Maybe he just doesn’t like other people?”

“What did he have to say?” Stiger asked, feeling weary and wanting to be away from the farm. It had dredged up unwelcome memories. “Anything interesting?”

“Well”—Tiro drew in a deep breath—“as you can imagine, things around here have been difficult. It’s a pretty lonely life. The closest neighbor is five miles down the road and the nearest town is forty miles away, but of late it’s been tougher than usual.”

“Tough how?” Griggs asked, with a scowl shot toward the farmer. The man was looking their way, with what Stiger thought was thinly veiled concern. Stiger knew the farmer wanted them to move on, and the sooner the better. “If I understand correctly, the war has yet to touch this area. There has been no fighting anywhere close by. I was privy to the general’s reports and there was nothing mentioned about any sort of trouble this far from the lines.”

“You are forgetting the garrisons, sir,” Tiro said.

“Garrisons?” Griggs asked and then it dawned on him. His expression hardened. “The war brought new garrisons. Let me guess, an auxiliary cohort was garrisoned nearby, and they’re adding to the misery the tax collector brings, is that it?”

“That’s the right of it, Father,” Tiro said. “In these parts, it seems the tax collector is no better than a bandit himself, squeezing the locals something fierce. I mean, he usually is, right? Well then, the war starts and an auxiliary cohort is stationed at the nearest town, Larensus. From what I gather, I guess…well, the prefect is looking to make some extra pocket change while he’s cooling his heels behind the lines and not doing much other than harassing the locals.”

“Is he now?” Stiger rubbed the back of his neck. According to Stiger’s map, Larensus was nearly a two-day march from here and on the road they were using. He had checked the map a few hours ago and had been looking forward to seeing the town, a taste of civilization.

“As a sergeant,” Tiro said, sounding very careful in his choice of words, “I’d never dream to accuse an officer of such a thing.”

“Oh really?” Stiger looked over at Tiro.

“That’s just what Darius over there thinks, sir.” Tiro jabbed a thumb at the farmer. “I’m just passing along the information I gathered, is all, sir.”

“It’s been hard on him,” Father Griggs said. “They only have one pig, and when I looked in the barn, there was a single cow, with room for more and tack for a horse, but no such animal.”

Stiger looked over at the old wagon, with the bundles of hay. The wagon had seen better days, with some of the sideboards beginning to rot away. Without a horse, it was no use to anyone.

“Darius said a patrol from the garrison came by last week and confiscated his horse,” Tiro said. “He was told it was for the war effort, sir. He doesn’t know how he’ll plow come spring or, for that matter, get his crops to market without the animal. He was thinking of bringing the matter up with the magistrate, but in truth is afraid to do so. He thinks the garrison will retaliate if he does.”

“Well,” Stiger said, letting out a long breath, “there’s nothing we can do about it now. I will inform the general when we return. He can investigate if he wishes and deal with it.”

“Yes, sir,” Tiro said. “This kind of thing is all too common.”

Stiger got the sergeant’s meaning. The general would likely do nothing because such practices had long since been tolerated and in some circles even encouraged. As long as it did not get out of hand, there was the very real chance such abuse of the locals would be ignored. The thought of it left Stiger feeling sour.

“The boys have rested long enough,” Stiger growled. Though it tore at him, there was nothing he could do here to help the man and his family. “It’s about time we got moving.”

“Yes, sir,” Tiro said, then turned away toward the men. “Fall in, you layabouts.”

The men began pulling themselves to their feet, slipping their shields onto their backs, and hoisting yokes.

“There is a lot of daylight left, ladies,” Tiro called out enthusiastically as he moved amongst the men. He kicked at one man who was slow to get to his feet. “I do declare, it is truly a fine day, a fine day indeed. And I bet you can all guess what the best part is.”

“You’re gonna carry my yoke for me?” Legionary Maximus called out. “That would make this the perfect day, Sergeant.”

“Not a chance, you lazy maggot,” Tiro said with a good-natured laugh. “I’ll tell you what the best part is.”

“I knew you would, Sergeant,” another legionary said. Stiger couldn’t see who had said it, but it brought a slight smile to his lips.

“The best part is,” Tiro said, ignoring the man, “that a long road lies before us. Plenty of time to stretch those wonderful things we call legs and work out the aches and pains.”

There were a number of exaggerated groans at that.

“Next to a day of drill, a long march is what I live for. It builds character, boys.”

Tiro was answered with even more groans. Despite that, the company formed up rapidly.

About to give the order to march, Stiger hesitated and glanced over at Darius. The man was still standing where Tiro had left him. He had a funny look on his face, almost as if he wished he was going with them. Stiger reached inside his tunic and pulled out a silver talon from his purse. The loss of the silver talon would put a serious dent in his meager funds, but he knew it would mean more to the retired veteran-turned-farmer. Stiger flipped the coin up into the air, where it flashed in the sunlight, catching it. Stiger tossed the man the talon.

“For the water, your service, and for entertaining Tiro. I’ve not had a moment’s peace since we started out. Thank you.”

“Now that’s just not fair, sir,” Tiro groused in an injured tone. Several of the men laughed, which had been Stiger’s intention.

“Thank you, sir.” Darius clutched the coin tightly in his fist. “Thank you, sir.”

Stiger gave the man a nod and turned back to his men.

“Forward,” Stiger called loudly, “march.”

Then they were off, steadily trudging down the road, leaving the farm and concerned farmer behind with the dust kicked up from their passage.

Stiger, as was his custom, throughout the day selected different locations along the column to march with. It allowed him to spend a little time with every man. Father Griggs fell in at Stiger’s side.

Tiro was bringing up the rear, marching just before the mule train. Stiger could hear his sergeant keeping up a nonstop dialogue about the benefits of marching and how it improved the constitution. He was loud enough for everyone to hear. Though they did not recognize it as such, Tiro’s efforts were for the benefit of the men. It helped to keep up morale. Occasionally a man would say something smart back to Tiro and off the sergeant would go, tearing into the man or lecturing on something or other, making the entire experience an entertaining diversion from the long monotonous miles.

Father Griggs and Stiger marched in silence for a time. With the forest firmly behind them, the road took them through gently rolling hills and prairie. The grass on either side of the road grew long, at points tall enough that it would tower over the tallest man’s head. Stiger had never seen grass grow so high. It was incredible, really. The more he saw of the world, the more he realized he had much to learn. Eventually, Stiger tired of the silence and, feeling conversational, he glanced over at the paladin.

“I understand you healed several men.” Stiger had heard a surgeon’s mate speak about it when he had last visited Hollux. He’d also heard stories and tales on how paladins healed with their holy power. “Grievously injured men, if the tale is true.”

“Serving in the legion, I’d hazard you hear a lot of things, Captain,” the paladin said, apparently unwilling to speak about it.

“Did you heal them?” Stiger asked, deciding not to be put off. If the paladin could heal men, it was something he needed to know. “I was told that after the legion’s battle with the Rivan army, there were several men who, without your intervention, would have surely died.”

“I get asked that a lot,” the paladin said, looking back over at Stiger and then the men marching closely by their side. Griggs heaved a heavy breath, as if giving in to the inevitable. “With the High Father’s blessing, those men were indeed healed of their injuries. So, yes, to answer your question, what you heard was truth.”

Stiger was impressed. A camp tale was one thing, having it confirmed as fact was another.

“I could not have done it without the High Father’s grace,” Griggs said.

“So, it’s not just up to you, is it?” Stiger asked, his curiosity sparked.

“It’s up to the High Father,” the paladin said. “Should he judge the individual unworthy of healing, the High Father’s grace will be withheld. It is as simple as that.”

Stiger gave an absent nod. “Another reason to attend services, then.”

The paladin gave a bark of a laugh. “Sometimes it takes a little bit more than attending the occasional service.” Griggs shot Stiger a conspiratorial wink. “You might want to consider the occasional sacrifice.”

Stiger turned it over in his mind for several steps before glancing back over at the paladin.

“The High Father will only heal those who truly believe? Is that it?”

“In most instances you would be quite correct,” Father Griggs said. “The High Father is a forgiving god. He may even choose to share his blessing with those who repent and return to the flock at the very end. Though sometimes, the great god will deny healing to those who would normally be considered worthy. It seems he desires those special souls close by his side. However, in truth, the ways of the great god are at times mysterious and unknowable.”

“Even for you, Father?”

The paladin gave a curt nod. “I do my best to determine his will.”

“Could he heal one who is not a believer or of the faith?” Stiger asked, the words coming out before his mind caught up. He suddenly felt foolish, for it was an absurd question. Of course the High Father would only heal believers. However, Father Griggs seemed to take the question seriously.

“He is a god,” Griggs said. “I imagine he can heal whomever he desires. Still, with all honesty, such an event is a very rare, but not unknown, occurrence.”

Stiger fell silent, thinking on what he had just learned. He looked over at the paladin.

“Thank you for answering my questions,” Stiger said. “I am pleased you are with us, Father. The men are all good boys, but they could always use some spiritual direction and, I daresay, a potential healing now and then. That is, if we need one.”

“We prefer to think of them as good boys,” Father Griggs said, lowering his voice and gazing idly over at the nearest men. The column of march had predictably spread out. Without being told, the men had given their captain and the paladin some space to speak. “But you and I both know you have men serving in your company who were, at one point, criminals.”

“That’s true,” Stiger said. “It’s common knowledge. A good number in the legion were given a choice by the magistrate: either serve or be sentenced to work on a plantation or, worse, the mines.”

“Since we have been confessing things to one another,” Father Griggs said, “I am a sinner and I’ve always been one. Don’t look so surprised,” the paladin said, catching his look. “No one is perfect. We all sin, in big ways or small, in thought or by deed. Just because I am a paladin does not make me perfect. I am as human as you, with all the desires, flaws, and imperfections that come with our race.”

“I see,” Stiger said. He had never known a holy man to speak in such a manner. It was shocking, but also somewhat refreshing. “So, how did you become a paladin?”

Griggs eyed Stiger a long moment before speaking. “You know how some of the nobility can get. Well, I was the worst of the worst, a spoiled and entitled heir to a powerful family. I cared only for myself and no one else. With such entitlement in hand, I did things I am not proud of, terrible things. I was a truly repugnant person, as morally rotten as the late Tribune Declin. Maybe I was even worse.” Griggs fell silent, a distant look in his eyes. He sucked in a breath. When he continued, the paladin’s voice was full of pain, emotion, and bitterness. “There was no magistrate to make me an offer of service. No magistrate would ever dare attempt such a thing. Not for me, not if he valued his life. My family would have seen him dead, an assassin’s blade stuck fast between his ribs on some dark night. It would be made to look as if the magistrate had been robbed and then killed.” Griggs glanced over at Stiger. “A warrior cleric by the name of Father Ivus took note of me. He saw something in me that I could not see myself. I am not ashamed to admit Father Ivus saved my soul. He changed the course of my life. It was he who set me on the path to redemption and ultimately this road I now walk in service to the High Father. He awakened in me that which I knew not. I discovered a burning love for my god and, surprisingly, a love for myself.” The paladin stepped over another pothole. The road was old, distressed, and poorly maintained. “The High Father can forgive, but there are days that I find it difficult to forgive myself. I make amends the only way I can, by serving my god and his flock.”

Father Griggs fell silent at that. Their boots crunching away. The silence grew again between them. To their side, the men talked amongst themselves. Stiger considered the paladin. He decided it really didn’t matter. Like many of the men serving in his own company, it was as the paladin had said; the ranks were filled with former criminals, sinners all. It was the same story throughout the entirety of the legion.

The company books listed the crimes each man who had not enlisted of his free will had committed. Early on, after assuming command from the late Captain Cethegus, Stiger had made the decision that he did not care who they had been. Tiro had shown him how the legion had changed them all, forged them into new men. Stiger himself had changed. As long as they were good soldiers, he did not care what had occurred before joining his company. Each and every one of them marching by his side had proven themselves repeatedly. They were his family now, all brothers in arms.

Stiger’s thoughts traveled to his own beliefs. He followed the old ways, honoring several gods, with the High Father’s teachings preeminent amongst the order. Those teachings taught that even though the great god offered forgiveness, there was always a price to be paid for past actions. For many of those in the legion, the price was hard service. For others it translated into death and dismemberment. Stiger wondered what Father Griggs’s price had been. Or was it yet to be paid?

“Does that change how you view me?” Griggs asked, breaking the silence that had grown long between them. “Are you still pleased to have me along for the march?”

“It changes nothing.” Stiger looked over at the paladin. “You are a holy warrior, in the service of the High Father. I could never imagine myself not welcoming such a priest.”

“Well,” Father Griggs said, “you haven’t traveled in the company of very many paladins, now, have you?

“No,” Stiger admitted. “I haven’t, Father. You are the first paladin I’ve ever met.”

“Then I would recommend reserving judgment,” Father Griggs chuckled, “until after we’ve spent some time together. There are some who do not welcome us. In the end, you may just decide that paladins mean unwanted trouble.”

“I very much doubt I will ever view you as trouble, Father,” Stiger said, feeling a grin grow on his face. The paladin was teasing him now. “It is truly a blessing you are with us.”

“I pray it ever remains so,” Father Griggs said in a low tone.

They lapsed back into the silence. The grin fell away. Though it had been said in a lighthearted manner, Stiger couldn’t help but wonder if there was some kernel of truth to what the paladin had said. He had heard stories and read the tales about how paladins combatted evil, which in Stiger’s mind was a positive thing. And yet, he couldn’t think how that could be a negative. He spared another glance over at the paladin and then returned his gaze forward.

It felt good to finally be out of the forest and into the open once again. Now that he was away from the farm, his spirits had begun to pick up. Though the day was chill, he was beginning to work up a sweat. He spared a glance up at the sun. It was a little after midday and he figured that they had at least four hours of good light yet before making camp for the night. Stiger spared a glance over at Griggs.

“My son,” Griggs said, catching his look. “Tell me, when was the last time you spoke on your sins? The High Father teaches that it is good for one to confess. Such will help shed the burden your misdeeds place upon the soul.”

Stiger looked over at the paladin. It had been a good long while since he had confessed. He was sure now was not the time, especially with the men within easy earshot. The paladin’s solemn expression cracked and he gave forth a good-natured laugh. Stiger found himself chuckling a moment later. Griggs was beginning to grow on him.


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