When Jana entered the home of the rouge Paladin, a boy almost dropped his bowl of freshly chopped herbs when saw her. As if a painting came to life. Jana carried the same white hair and blue eyes as all Paladins. Though her skin was fairer than most. Maybe that’s what created such shock on the boy’s face.
“We have a guest, Amon. Would you make her a plate?” Gris said, wiping his brow with a towel.
Amon could only nod as he quickly turned, looking for a bowl. The paladin sat at the family’s large table, her posture elegantly poised while her eyes took in her surroundings. She felt a little uncomfortable in such a small house, followed by a shock of guilt. Her fingers knotted in her lap at her disgraceful thoughts. Life in the city and the country was vastly different, and her parents were more fortunate than others.
Biting the corner of her lip, she scolded herself for her judgment against these kind people who welcomed her into their home. The youngest child of the house frantically worked to prepare Jana a meal. He was smaller than the rest of the family, even compared to his mother, who seemed a little taller than the average woman, but he carried the same dark hair and bright eyes.
“What do you farm here?” Jana asked, hoping to ease her discomfort.
“Oh, mostly wheat and various vegetables, but we have a growing herb garden too,” Amon said, beaming towards the end of his answer.
Gris sat at the end of the table, a proud expression on his face. “Amon started the herb garden a while ago,” he chuckled. “He thought our food was too bland,”
“That’s not true!” The son replied. “Herbs have a lot of different benefits, especially healing.”
“You cook to heal, then?”
Amon gave a nervous smile. “Well, I’ve always been prone to sickness, so I started looking for different ways to strengthen my body. I read a lot about how certain ingredients provide the body with different nutrients, so I thought it would be my best bet.”
He passed a bowl of thick soup to the Paladin, who allowed the furious steam to settle before picking up her spoon. “Has it worked?”
“I’m not as strong as Mariel...”
“Come now, son. Only other Paladins would compete with Mariel’s strength. You’ve done wonderfully,” Yvonne said.
Jana caught the slip of Amon’s childish face slip into sadness. She stirred her soup, a rich aroma filling her nose. The soup was hearty but light. Punches of earthly flavors danced on her tongue, warming her as she consumed it.
“Have you thought of going to the Capital? They are always looking for cooks to construct proper meals for the Paladins and the most effective way to supply adequate nutrition to the people. If you are truly dedicated to your craft, I will put in a good word for you.”
Amon’s eyes widened. “Oh no I couldn’t, I’m not good enough for something like that.”
“Nonsense! Everyone has to start somewhere, right? If your parents allow it, I will escort you along with your sister.”
Amon’s face twisted. “Oh, you’re here for Mariel? Don’t waste your time. She’s a sorry excuse for a Paladin.”
“Amon! I will not have that kind of talk about your sister,” Gris said sternly. The grimace on the brother’s face was not as subtle, as the air became as thick as Jana’s soup.
“Your sister has not had the same experiences as Paladin’s typically do. It is to be expected that she might be hesitant about stepping into her role. I am sure some support and guidance will reassure her,” Jana said.
Amon scoffed. “She’s never taken being a Paladin seriously. She wastes everything the gods gave her! I would be grateful to have what she has.”
“Maybe if you kiss the gods asses’ enough, you’ll get it.”
Jana turned to the voice behind her, instantly realizing this was who she came to retrieve, and given the bitter look on Mariel’s face, her task would be just as difficult as what she was told.
“Enough, Mariel,” Gris said with a sigh.
“You always do this, both of you. You defend her dumb actions and she always causes us trouble,” Amon said, storming out of the room.
“My apologies, Paladin Jana. The past couple of days have been stressful for my children,” Gris explained.
Mariel made a rude sound. “What does a child have to be stressed about?”
“Yes, daughter, why don’t you tell us?” Yvonne said, her hands planted on her hips.
Even Jana recognized that tone in her voice. Mariel crossed the line into angering her mother, yet she looked as if her blood might boil. “Whatever you’re here for Paladin, I’m not interested.”
“I have been tasked escorting you to the Capital for the Champion Selection. It is my understanding that you have intentionally disregarded previous invitations to it,” Jana said.
“Yeah, and I’m keeping it that way. You came a long way for nothing.”
Jana dabbed her mouth with a napkin before rising to face the reluctant woman. “I am afraid that I cannot accept no for an answer.”
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