Jana beat the rising sun to meet the day, taking extra time to brush the dirt from Lily’s white coat until it shined. She was disappointed to see that Unir was not with her, but the minor god never stuck around long. Still, the Paladin didn’t miss her only traveling companion much with the lovely sounds of birds as she rode. The peaceful atmosphere of the farming region swayed Jana’s city heart. This was the first time she had ventured so far away from a city with not even a decent sized village nearby.
Her growing love of the countryside shifted to concern as she realized she wasn’t entirely sure where she was. Jana had not seen a sign for miles and no people on the road. Shaking away the twist of doubt from her lips, she urged Lily forward. Just as she believed she had gone the wrong way, she spotted a woman coming out of the woods nearby and head towards the road.
“Ma’am!” The Paladin yelled, bringing her mare into a trot.
The woman turned to her, a smile blooming on her face. At first, the villager’s appearance took aback Jana. Though her dark hair braided poured gracefully over her shoulder, with beads woven into the strands, her clothes were old and worn. Her face and hands were dirty. Jana noticed the source was the basket she was carrying, which was full of various plants Jana didn’t recognize.
“Gods blessing! I thought the only Paladin I would see is my own,” the woman said.
Jana dismounted her horse and adjusting her armor. “So a Paladin is living near here? Might you know her?”
“Better than most. She’s my daughter.”
Jana’s eyes widened, and she shifted into a bow. “Oh! My apologies, ma’am. It is terribly rude of me not to introduce myself to the parent of the Paladin. My name is Jana. I serve King Stormwood. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
The woman covered a small laugh. “There’s no need for all that. My name is Yvonne. What has Mariel done this time?”
“Oh, nothing that I know of, ma’am. I have been tasked to escort to the Capital for the Champion Selection.”
Yvonne didn’t hide her laugh this time. “My, that might prove to be your most challenging task yet, young lady. She won’t be home until dinner, but you are welcome to stay with us until you go.”
“I could not impose on you,” Jana said nervously. “I plan to leave for the Capital as soon as I speak to your daughter.”
“You won’t be leaving today. You’ll be lucky if she leaves with you at all,” Yvonne said, as she started walking down the road. Hesitation crept inside Jana. She never knew a Paladin to have such a hostile reputation. Evidently, she was missing something critical.
“May I ask you a question?” Jana asked.
“Of course,” the mother said.
“I’ve heard very little of your daughter, but those who know her speak with prejudice. Does she resent being a Paladin?”
A fond but sad smile grew on Yvonne’s lips, her eyes weighed down with a mother’s worry. “I don’t believe she hates being a Paladin.”
“Then why does she refuse it?”
Yvonne wiped away the dirt from her face with her apron. “Why indeed?”
She said nothing more, replacing her words with a wordless song. Jana’s earlier enthusiasm became dashed by the response. How strange that the parents of a Paladin would be so complacent towards this plight. The integrity of the Paladins would be at risk with such a rogue in their numbers. Even as her stomach knotted at the challenge of her mission, she calculated the impact her failure could have and decided it was not an option.
She took a deep breath, the fresh country air filling her lungs. A slight delay in returning home would be well worth it to soak in this beautiful sensation she felt from her surroundings. The praise she would receive from her king and the other Paladins would be immense. Color shot through her face at the possibility that Lady Edona herself might commend her for her work.
“Are you hungry, Paladin Jana?” Yvonne asked.
“Just a little, ma’am.”
“My son will probably have something cooking when we arrive. Help yourself if you would like, he is a wonderful cook. We are getting close now.” The mother pointed ahead of them to a wooden house just barely seen over the light hills. Suddenly, Jana’s nerves hit her, reminding her of how she felt in her early days of training, anxious and unprepared. She tried to force them down as they approached the house, which was cute (to Jana’s surprise).
It was stable and well maintained, with several fields surrounding the house. Chickens clucked from a pin on one side, and horses neighed from a barn nearby. A large man swung an ax, splitting a large piece of wood. He turned, wiping his brow and smiling at his wife, but it quickly dropped when he spotted the white-haired, blue-eyed woman.
“What has Mariel done now?” He asked with a sigh.
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