“Oh thank you, Paladin, thank you!”
“Thank the gods were here to spare us from that abomination.”
Jana said nothing as the people crowded around her, praising her for her heroic actions. Major was neighing loudly, his hoof digging at the ground. She placed her hand on his nose. “I am sorry, but you cannot follow her.”
She raised her head. Gris and Amon were running towards her. The villagers’ cheers quickly turned to a protest.
“Gris, your child is out of control!”
“She could have killed us!”
“She brings nothing but shame to this village and to the good name of Paladins!”
Amon walked closer to his father, who stood tall and unwavering. They walked up to Jana, tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. “Sir, is what her daily life is like? Is this what she has had to endure for so many years?”
The father’s face gave Jana the answer, handing Major’s reins to him. Roy rushed over, forcing his way through the crowd. “Oye! Paladin, say something to them!”
Jana froze, the harsh words continuing to roar in her ears. She looked among their eager and delighted faces, all of them waiting for her attention. Her hands gripped the reins tight, slipping through her clammy hands. Sweat beaded on her forehead. What could she do? If she spoke in defense of Mariel’s actions, what would her king say? The hot-headed woman was in the wrong just as much as the villagers, but Mariel was a Paladin, shouldn’t she guard their honor? No, Paladins were still responsible for their actions.
“Stop it, Roy, Paladin Jana serves a king. She has to be careful of her words, especially outside of her kingdom,” Gris said, causing Roy to roll his eyes.
The statement brought Jana no comfort. Her heart still banged furiously and her eyes stared at the forest that Mariel walked towards.
“I’ll go after her,” she said.
Gris nodded. “Ok, take Major, he’ll know exactly where to go.”
“What will we do with the cart? It’s too heavy for Lily to carry,” Jana said.
“Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.”
The men quickly unhooked Major, leaving Jana to wonder how she was going to get on such a large horse. Gris caught on to the much smaller Paladin’s obstacle and bent over, threading his fingers together, offering her a lift. She flushed. Embarrassed at the situation, which was made worse when she actually got on the horse. There was no way for her to sit comfortably, even after Roy adjusted the stirrup to fit her shorter legs. She almost gasped at the sight of the villagers’ faces from such a height. Her stomach felt sick.
“Alright, go to Mariel, but be gentle,” Gris said, giving the horse a firm pat on the rear.
Major burst into a run, almost causing Jana to fall off entirely. People screamed, jumping out of the way of the massive animal. Her commands to slow the horse fell on deaf ears, the sound of his hooves growing louder than her words. After a small prayer to the gods, she chanced a look back, seeing the village was rapidly becoming smaller behind them.
Panic didn’t leave her as the horse continued its race, her voice almost squeaking in fear. The horse was as stubborn as his owner, but moved so smoothly that Jana might have thought they were flying. As the Paladin finally felt she could trust Major, her eyes widened at the realization that the beast was making no attempts to slow down as the trees became closer.
“Oh no, no, no, no. Stop! I can walk from the edge of trees,” she pleaded.
Major responded with a snort and continued forward. Jana had little choice but to lean in close against the horse, covering her face as they sped through the trees. Branches whipped against the Jana’s armor, but the sharp stings did nothing to slow down stallion, even as drops of blood fell along with his body. Jana pulled on the reins, a loud sound erupted from Major, stopping him. He shook his head, a from leg hitting the ground rapidly.
“Please slow down. Mariel will be distraught to see you in such a state.”
His sides heaved under her, his strained breathing filling the forest, but he didn’t move. She rubbed his neck, hoping to calm him. “I know you are concerned for your rider, but she is in no danger.”
He turned his head towards her, dark eyes registering what she said. With another snort, he walked, much to Jana’s relief. Even in the rough terrain of the forest floor, Major carried on with grace and ease. His nostrils flared from time to time, adjusting his course until the Paladin could just a make a sizeable unknown form through the trees. A high-pitched squeal caused Jana to flinch, taking her a moment to recognize the sound of a young pig.
Major stepped into an opening, stopping just long enough for Jana to slide off the saddle and touch the ground. Three small wild boars ran around the clearing, rolling an apple with their noses. A giant boar lay under a tree, with Mariel sitting nearby, finishing her own piece of fruit. Alboda raised his head.
Ah, so another Paladin is here. What a day it has been.
Jana bowed. “My apologies Great Beast. I have come into your territory uninvited.”
All Paladins are welcome here, young one. Have you come to talk some sense into this mule?
“Yes,” Jana replied.
“Over my dead body,” Mariel said.
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