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Status Active
Race Prydaen
Gender Female
Guild Paladin
Instance Prime


You see Eskila Ikamaye, a Prydaen.
Eskila has a round face, cat-slitted crystal green eyes and a small nose.  Her bright orange-streaked black mane is shoulder length and fine, and is worn in a mop of unruly cowlicks.  She has tortoiseshell fur, a slender tail and a wiry figure.
She is tall for a Prydaen.

Eski Facts

Eskila's Tortoiseshell markings
  • Girlfriend of the bards Urilor and Sonatina.
  • Squire of Betlind.
  • Grew up on a pig farm.
  • Tortitude.
  • Owner of Commander Beanpop Snow the red-eyed white rat.
  • Likes the color orange, it matches her fur.
  • Favorite colors are teal or purple.
  • Always tired...
    • Starting to have "ellipses moments", but is ashamed to let people know.
  • Collects all the worn knives. Daggers are not knives.
  • Against raisins in things.
  • Will do nice things for vardite.

Special Things

  • an orange marblesilk tabard emblazoned with a ferociously adorable rat
Standing salient atop a nugget sewn of tin-colored thread, the sleek and graceful albino rodent gazes defiantly upwards with eyes of flame red, its forepaws raised in a defensive posture.  A ghostly white banner hangs above the diminutive beast, and above that, the faint outline of a stylized butterfly is stitched in golden thread.
The tabard reads: "No one told me not to."


Click to View Quotes!

Anuril quietly asks, "Does Opol want you to sacrifice yourself for her?"
You wearily say, "If she doesn't, she shouldn't have flirted with a paladin."
Anuril says, "Point."
You wearily say, "I am... a shield."
Kethrai quietly says, "I think she wants you to be more than that to her."
You wearily say, "Then she's going to have to forge that part herself or with me, because when I became a shield, there wasn't anything else left."
Kethrai says, "I think she might be happy to build it with you. Or discover it, at least."
You wearily say, "I'd be happy to, too."
You wearily ask, "That island... it was evil wasn't it?"
You wearily say, "It was gross, and painful, and scary."
Kethrai says, "Most evil place I've ever seen."
Kethrai says, "Hopefully that record lasts a long time..."
You wearily say, "There was something awful and wrong about it that I don't understand."
You wearily ask, "And the paladin weapon I helped with fixed some of that?"
Kethrai says, "And it saved us all, and let us all get home."
You wearily ask, "How would you feel if that island was broken into a million small parts, and each part was inside someone's heart?"
Kethrai quietly asks, "Scared?"
You wearily say, "Ok."
Kethrai says, "But, you don't have... the evil island in your heart, Eskila."
You wearily say, "No, I don't."
You wearily say, "This is the strength of my soul."
You rub the tailband...
It gleams brightly with a pristine luminescence!
You wearily say, "Soul is memories."
You wearily say, "Memories are heart."
You wearily ask, "Right?"
Kethrai says, "Sure."
You wearily say, "I'm here to protect you from the pieces of that island that live in the hearts of everyone else."
Kethrai says to you, "I'm just... glad that you're here."
You wearily say, "So have no fear."
You wearily say, "I don't."
You wearily say, "I'm not afraid. I just don't know what to do if it happens again. I think I faced the scariest thing I might ever see in my lifetime, and then I was put in front of a weapon that made it go away. I had that power, in my hands. And now I don't. Not scared. Just helpless."
You wearily say, "I'm not used to that... having choices..."
Opol tenderly says, "There's always a choice... just which one is what makes us who we are."
You wearily say, "Maybe. There's always a choice, but you're not the one who gets to make it for yourself."
Opol tenderly says, "No, I suppose not. The gods probably do."
You wearily say, "Betlind's been teaching me about them."
Opol tenderly says, "As a good Paladin should learn, I imagine. Holy warriors that you are."
You wearily say, "I've never felt Holy."
Opol tenderly says, "I believe it's your actions that make you Holy... and to me, you are."
You wearily say, "And if the gods made all those choices in my life that I wasn't allowed to, those gods don't deserve to be gods."
You wearily say, "Maybe I should be a god then."
Opol tenderly says, "Good luck with that."
Urilor asks, "Why are you so angry all the time?"
Urilor says, "Aside from the guild drama."
You wearily say, "Because things aren't fair."
You wearily say, "Because people are evil."
You wearily say, "Because gods are evil."
You wearily say, "Because undead liches are evil."
You wearily say, "Because I don't get enough sleep."
You wearily say, "Because I can't do anything to change any of that."
Urilor asks, "And your drive for fairness, plus the hatred of evil, was what drove you to become a paladin in the first place?"
You wearily say, "No."
Urilor says, "So. Back to telling me why in Tenemlor's name you ended up as a paladin."
You wearily say, "I can't."
You wearily say, "Not in Tenemlor's name."
Urilor says, "Then let me rephrase."
Urilor says, "Back to telling me why in Eskila's name you ended up as a paladin."
You wearily say, "If any god had anything to do with it, then that god shouldn't be a god. And if any god could have stopped it, then that god shouldn't be a god."
You wearily exclaim, "Go home!"
You growl at a goblin scout.
You shake your light spear at a goblin scout.
[Goblin fires an arrow at Eskila]
[Eskila lobs her spear at the goblin scout, apocalyptic strike! Its dead.]
Anuril winces.
You wearily say, "Then go to your gods."
Anuril nods.
You wearily say, "That sounded cool."
Remyngton laughs!
You wearily ask, "Do goblins have gods?"
Anuril appears to be trying hard not to grin.
Anuril coughs.
Remyngton asks, "Probably?" 


* I Need An Empath

Eskila wistfully sings in a soprano voice:
    "Where have all the healers gone
     And where are all the gods?
     Where's the Knife Clan chirurgeon
     To tend the fighting squads?"

Eskila frantically sings in a soprano voice:
    "Isn't there a herbalist upon Hodierna's steed?
     Late at night, I shout and I gweth
     And I dream of what I need:"

Eskila ferociously sings in a soprano voice:
    "I need an empath!
     I'm holding out for an empath 'til the end of the night!
     She's gotta beware and she's gotta be fast
     'Cause I'm bleeding out from a fight!"

Eskila urgently sings in a soprano voice:
    "I need an empath!
     I'm holding out for an empath 'til the morning light!
     She's gotta be cute and its gotta be soon
     And she's gotta snap-cast Gift of Life
     Cast Gift of Life!"

Eskila yearningly sings in a soprano voice:
    "Somewhere after Starwatch
     In my wildest fantasy
     Somewhere, just beyond my touch
     There's someone touching back for me!"

Eskila valorously sings in a soprano voice:
    "Regen sparks around her
     Unity links to me
     It's gonna take a Life Weaver to restore both my feet, yeeeaaaah!"

Eskila throws her head back and howls!

Eskila urgently sings in a soprano voice:
    "I need an empath!
     I'm holding out for an empath 'til the end of the night!
     She's gotta beware and she's gotta be fast
     'Cause I'm bleeding out from a fight!"

(Eskila starts to do an epic drum solo on her helmet until she's head banging away in a frenzy and seems to forget she was singing a song.)

Eskila powerfully sings in a soprano voice:
    "Up where the goblins crash into Kaerna's gates
     Out where banshees scream "Asketi!"
     I could swear there is someone, somewhere, healing me!
     Through the daily training tedium
     And the gargs' falling *thud*s
     I can feel the wound transfers like a fire in my blood!"

Eskila tempestuously sings in a soprano voice:
    "I need an empath!
     I'm holding out for an empath 'til the end of the night!
     She's gotta beware and she's gotta be fast
     'Cause I'm bleeding out from a fight!"

Eskila hysterically sings in a soprano voice:
    "I need an empath!
     I'm holding out for an empath 'til the morning light!
     She's gotta be cute and its gotta be soon
     And she's gotta snap-cast Gift of Life!"

Eskila belts out, "I need an empath!" 

* Why?

Eskila quietly sings in a soprano voice:
    "Here on the edge of the night
     Finding the ways to tell you I'm sorry
     Struggling without reasons why
     I'm staring down this sky, oh so starry"

Eskila numbly sings in a soprano voice:
    "Here on the edge of goodbye
     If one more word be said, would I know it?
     Wishing for feelings denied
     Even then, would I know how to show it?"

Eskila resignedly sings in a soprano voice:
    "Was my heart just too big?
     Was my body too warm?
     Do you even know
     You've left me out in this storm?
     And I will try, try, try
     Not to cry in the snow"

Eskila unemotionally sings in a soprano voice:
    "And its not easy when your feelings betray you,
     When a laugh has you down on your knees
     Would you believe me that by just thinking of you
     I'd be hurt in ways none could foresee?
     Would you still leave me if you saw this before you,
     A soul crushed down by all it could be?"

Eskila tiredly sings in a soprano voice:
    "Here on the edge of the night
     Blinded by blaze of the stars in the sky
     Holding your heart close to mine
     Hoping for time, for the the secrets to die"

Eskila wearily sings in a soprano voice:
    "Here on the edge of goodbye
     Sleep takes my hand, pulls me down to the ground
     Stars fall so close to my eyes
     I'm screaming and no one around hears the sound"

Eskila hauntingly sings in a soprano voice:
    "Was my need just too much?
     Was my soul just too cold?
     And do you even know
     You've left me out on the threshold?
     But without knowing why
     I will try... try, try, try...
     Not to cry in the snow" 


* Part 1

    Her sister's tail slipped from her fingers.

    "Come on, Eski, try to keep up."

    "I'm trying... you're just so fast..."

    "I'm only walking, slowpoke."

    "I can't... breathe..."

    "OK... I'll wait around the next corner!"

    Eskila stopped jogging and doubled over in the snow, panting for breath. The dark, blurry figure of her sister receded into the distance, vanishing into the scenery before the road even turned. She rubbed her eyes, blinking away the frost from her eyelids, and slowly toppled backwards to sit and breathe. If Skylea would wait like she said, then she could wait, too.

    Her chest didn't stop hurting, but after a few minutes she stood up and plodded along the path anyway, going her own pace.

    Skylea was waiting, dozing off in the cover of the small trees just off the path.

    "You OK?"

    Eskila stopped to gasp for breath again, nodding.

    "Come on, sis..." Skylea got up and knelt before her, taking her hands and turning around to wrap Eskila's arms around her neck. "Want to be home for dinner."

    Eskila let herself be lifted onto her sister's back, her eyes closing in relief. 

* Part 2

    "Mom, I can go to the market myself next time."

    "Its OK to be slow, Sky. Eskila needs the fresh air."

    "I don't want to spend all day waiting for her! She can't even last a mile anymore."

    Her family's voices drifted through the curtain-covered doorway as she lie in the darkness of the bedroom, her body aching even after the sun had set.

    "Honey, its the only time she gets to spend with you, can't you just enjoy it?"

    "I used to. Its not fun."

    "Just give it time. The new medicine should start working in a few days, she'll get better."

    "Can't she stay home until then? I already have to do her work, its not fair to carry her too..."

    Eskila pulled her pillow over her ears and tried to fall back asleep.

* Part 3

    She woke to the feeling of her sister sliding into the bed next to her. She nudged herself to the far side, pressing her back to the cold wall to not take up so much room.

    Skylea sighed and pulled her close after getting comfortable, and Eskila let out a short purr at the softness of her sister's fur caressing her body. She wasn't sure how much time had passed, but Skylea's snoring never came. She gave her sister a gentle poke.


    "What is it?"

    "I wanted to know if you're awake."

    "Yes, I am."


    They lie in silence. Sky's fingers crept up along Eskila's back and began to gently massage her, eliciting more purring.

    "I wish I'd gotten sick instead of you," said Skylea.

    Eskila's purring stopped.


    "You were stronger than me before."

    "That's not true. We were six. Six year olds aren't strong."

    "You never complain about anything."

    Eskila dug her face into her sister's neck, saying nothing.

    "You never tattle. You never tell anyone no, even when you can't do something. You just keep trying until you do it, or you faint. I have to tell dad all the time I give up, when we're working. Giving up is easy. Why can't you do it? Why do you have to be so pig-headed all the time? Wasting everyone's time."

    "I'm sorry."

    It felt like an hour had gone by before Sky whispered back.

    "Me, too. Its hard for me. I can't imagine how hard it is for you. I know you never wanted to be anyone's burden. Look... I still love you, OK?"


    "I hope the new medicine works."

    "It won't."

    Skylea's claws pressed into her back.

    "Don't say that."

    "None of them worked..."

    "Because that crackpot alchemist was a fake... dad says this is the real stuff this time. Its going to work. Its going to work, you're going to be able to breathe again. I didn't mean what I was saying... I don't want you to give up, not ever. Not on this, OK? Esk... hey, stop that... stop crying, you'll wake them up..."

    "Sky... Gladnyss said her boy died of it... he said he couldn't see her face..."


    "She said... when he was dying... he said... it was just colors..."

    "Eski... Eski, you're not going to die..."

    Skylea's claws drew blood as she held her sister tight as she possibly could, Eskila's sobbing and wheezing turning into wracking coughs that eventually wore her out until sunrise.

* Part 4

    Summer sunlight baked the side of her face, making her eye ache and flicker shut.

    "Eski, hey... don't doze off now."

    "I'm not dozing, daddy."

    She clutched the stick tightly, wishing she could snap it in half, tear it into splinters. Her neck ached with the effort of keeping her head upright. Everything ached. She could barely keep the stick in her grip. Stupid stick. Stupid chair. Stupid bell.

    "Sky says your breathing's been better, since we ran out of the medicine."

    "A little."

    "I'm sorry we wasted so much time, baby. Those awful potions. No more of those for you. So... we're going to the city tomorrow."


    "And I've sold the pigs, so we have... We have enough for a healer."

    Eskila shut her eyes again, so she wouldn't have to pretend to look at her father's face, but her ears perked forward.

    "I want to know if you think you're up for a wagon ride."

    "I don't know," she said truthfully.

    "We'll take all the pillows and blankets to keep you comfortable. We'll take it slow."

    "I'll try."

    "That's my girl. Hey, just a little longer, baby, OK?"

    Half of her face smiled, for a moment.

    "You need anything today, while we pack up?"

    "Can I go outside?"

    She felt his lips touch her forehead, then the chair lifted clean off the ground. Her tail dragged along the ground, her muscles too weak to lift it. She opened her eyes and colors blurred together until they burst into a dazzling, blinding blue, and she felt the chair turning slowly until the soft warmth of sunlight fell onto her shadow-cold fur, and shivered at how nice it felt.

    "Here good for you?"

    "Thank you, daddy."

    "Tap the bell if you get thirsty." She hated them reminding her. "Don't yell."

    His fingers brushed through her mane, then she was alone.

    There wasn't any wind. Her family's muffled voices would drift around her, in and out of the house. No work today, she thought. Maybe no work ever again, without the pigs. The sun got hot, her throat got dry, and she somehow found the energy to lift her arm enough to wave the stick between her knees, until it hit the little bell dangling down the front of the chair.

    Skylea's fingers brushed her arm shortly after, and the wooden rim of a cup pressed to her lips. She flicked her ears "yes" and coughed as the water came too quickly. Sky had never figured out how to go slow.

    "Sorry. Hey. City, huh. River Crossing. That'll be fun, right? I heard there's shows. Real fun things people do. Drinking contests... hey, I'll sneak you something, you want?"


    "OK. More water, head up. There we go."

    Skylea sat down next to her, her tail curling around Eskila's ankles.

    "Dad's tough to talk to lately. Mom just clams up like you. Neither of them told you why we're all going, did they?"


    "We're turning fourteen soon, right? Dad said I'm... I look fifteen, from all the work. They want me to join a guild. I haven't decided yet. Which one, I mean. Can you imagine, me doing magic? I'll probably go with barbarian. They're cool, right?"

    Half a smile again.


    Silence. Then:

    "Wouldn't be around much. With the training. The bounties, hunting down goblins and things."


    "I don't want to do it, Eski..."


    "But I want to be more like you, so I'm going to do it. And when you're better, you better come join me, OK? Who knows... I've never seen an Empath before, but with the stories... maybe we can join a guild together, right after? We can stay together. And we'll be really cool heroes, helping people, making money for mom and dad, they won't have to work anymore, no more pigs, no more mud..."

    Sky's hand, fingers wrapping around her fingers, clenching tight enough to hurt, but she doesn't cry out.

    "That's what I hope for. You and me. How it should always have been."

    Silence, but her cheeks tickle as tears drip down through her whiskers.

    A sigh. Sky's fingers retreat.

    "Sun's setting. I'll go get dad to bring you in. Everything's changing tomorrow. Try to cheer up, OK? We're getting our lives back. We're... we're starting our lives... Eskila, I promise... no matter what I have to do... I'm going to be there for you. I mean really there for you. With you. Whatever it takes. I love you... I..."

    Her voice cracked. Eskila's ears turn towards her.

    "I love you, too."

    She holds her hand out, but Sky's footsteps patter up into the house.

* Part 5

    The sky rumbled, nothing but grey as far as she could see in any direction, until the forest canopy squeezed in over the wagon.

    The smooth dirt path gave way to a rocky, bumpy trail, then to a muddy, wobbly road. Something big and dark and also grey passed overhead, and the wheels rattled on stone.

    "We're in the city now, Eski," said Skylea. Her voice was grey, too.

* Part 6

    It was the softest bed she'd ever been in, even though it was a simple hospital cot. The softest hand, somehow like silk, brushed the fur on her arm. She gasped, her body spasming, her eyes screwed up tight. It was over in an instant.

    She gasped again, because she *could*.

    She opened her eyes, and saw no faces, but there were blurred shapes where she knew eyes and mouths should be. She could make out the tips of ears.

    "Give me a moment," the Empath said, her breath suddenly raspy, and she sat perfectly still as lights swirled around her body. She straightened up, then relaxed again, and her voice was clean when she spoke again. 

    "Much better."

    The Empath brushed her fingers over Eskila's arm again, and the little Prydaen girl tensed up reflexively.

    Her mother's voice trilled in question.

    "The poison's done more damage than I can heal. It will take her some time to build her muscles up again. She'll walk again just fine. Her eyes, she'll need corrective lenses. There's a place in Arthe Dale, no one in Crossing makes those."

    Her father's voice, tense.

    "How much?"

    "Last I heard, at least seven gold."

    She couldn't read anyone's faces.

    There was whispering, but she made out: "And... your fee?"

    The Empath abruptly stood up. Without further explanation, she simply said, "I'll return in a moment," and left the family there in the Healerie.

    Skylea slid into the cot next to her, hugging her tight. With some effort, Eskila wrapped her arms around her sister, and hugged back as hard as she could, while their mother cried.

    The Empath returned. A bag of coins jangled.

    "You will buy these girls decent clothing, and shoes, if the stones of the city are harsh on their feet. Tonight, you will go to the Raven's Court and eat whatever on the menu delights you the most. You will take the finest room at Taelbert's Inn for your rest. When you are ready tomorrow, you will go to the Northeast gate of the city and hire an armed escort to take you to Arthe Dale, and you will pick out at least two pairs of spectacles for your daughter. When you return to the city, you may spend the rest of the money as you wish, or you may keep it to buy your animals back. Or buy new animals. Or a new home. Start a new life, where your daughters can learn to read and write. My fee is non-negotiable. Now, please excuse me. I have other patients to attend to."

    Eskila gradually sat herself up, for the first time in months, and looked around, ears laid back.

    She'd never heard her father weep before.

* Part 7

    "How do they fit? I did have to bend them a little for the ears. They may pinch the nose."

    Eskila blinked, and blinked again, and tilted her head back to stare at the sky, then out the window, then at all the faces around her.

    She laughed until she couldn't breathe, because Skylea was making the most stupid, ridiculous face she could think of. And for the first time, she didn't mind that she couldn't.

* Part 8

    They tossed their new clothes onto the floor, because the floor was clean and warm and they had the room all to themselves.

    They fell into the bed a tangle of tails and limbs, giggling and hugging, with the occasional "ow" or "oops" or "wait, that still hurts!"

    "Oh, look, there's another bed!" Sky pointed. "Was that there last night?"

    Eskila buried her face into her sister's neck and breathed deep.

    "No way you're going to leave me to sleep alone now?" she asked.

    "Of course not! I just wonder why mom and dad got their own room if there's enough beds for everyone."

    "Our parents are going to be noisy..."

    "Ewww." Skylea made another silly face.


    They settled in, purring quietly at each other.



    "I know what I want to do now..."

    "What's that?"

    "I'm going to be an Empath."

    Eskila smiled up at her sister.

    "I think that's a wonderful idea."

    "You should join a guild, too. When you're strong enough. Soon! We'll come back to the city and join together."

    "Yes! I think..."



    "So you can protect me. And I'll protect you, by healing you."

    "Paladins are the ones with the shields, right?"

    "Right, and all the armor! They're so cool."

    "Sky, I can barely lift my arm..."

    "And I don't know the first thing about magic or healing. So what? For once you'll be ahead of me. You punched Klydelum in the eye when he said that rude thing about my tail. You chased him down and sat on his head and made him eat mud until he apologized, that was only a year ago. No one expected you to be *able* to do that, let alone actually *do* it. You've had Paladin practice!"

    "I guess so. But he was seven and his pants kept falling down so he couldn't run."

    "Even at half our age, he's twice our size! He's... what's that noise?"

    "Ewww... I think they started..."

    The two girls laughed, made more faces, and stuffed their ears with the softest pillows, saying nothing more until they drifted to sleep.

* Part 9

Trigger Warnings
-- Warning: This part includes violence, murder, and implied rape.
    Leaves crunched underfoot. The sky threatened to snow.

    She'd left the cane at home today, but was regretting it. Her knees hurt, and trying to not hurt them more was making everything else hurt. But it was a good kind of hurt, she'd been told. It meant her body was healing, growing.

    Skylea didn't notice these things, so when she suggested they race the rest of the way home, Eskila didn't say no. They both knew who would win. The sooner Sky got the meat back to the house, the sooner dinner could be started, anyway. It might even be done by the time she plodded through the door.

    She took her time, fighting the pain, enjoying the autumn breeze, and tolerated the sky making good on its threats. There was an inch of snow by the time the house was in view.

    That was odd. The door was open. Something was in front of the wall.

    She broke into a jog, crying out in pain.

    It was her father.

    She ran.

    Those weren't her cries she was hearing anymore.

    She fell beside him, tasting blood in the air. He was still. She found his knife on the ground.

    She couldn't breathe.

    She found her mother in the kitchen, on the table, and the man on top of her just grinned as she came at him. In one swipe, the knife clattered against a wall, then his hand struck her across the face.

    He lifted her by the neck and carried her into the bedroom. Skylea and another man were in their bed. Skylea wasn't moving, but was still crying.

    She clawed the man holding her, tearing at his arm, ripping his shirt. She twisted, biting at anything.

    He threw her against the wall. She couldn't move.

    Her mother came in, with the knife. It was turned against her, the man overpowering her after a brief struggle. He cursed and spat on her body, wiping his blood onto her fur.

    Eskila found her breath and crawled to her feet, pulled the knife from her mother, and ran at him. She stabbed, and stabbed, and stabbed, piercing only air.

    The man just laughed, his hand pressing against her head. The knife swings gradually slowed, until it fell from her fingers. She couldn't move her arm. He struck her again, hitting the bruising in her face, and she fell.

    She was picked up, put on the bed beside her sister, who had stopped crying.

    She gazed into Skylea's face until they took her spectacles and crushed them.

    They left her there when they were done. She heard them searching the house.

    "Found it."

    "How much?"

    "Over two hundred, easy."

    "Gnh. Good 'nuff. Burn the rest."

    Their voices grew louder. She shut her eyes. A hand brushed across her face.

    "This one's still alive."

    "So kill her."

    "Not worth it. Least the others put up a fight."

    The hand gripped her mane, dragging her from the bed, out the door.

    "Gone soft, have you?"

    "Did I look soft? I just said she's not worth it. Want her to know it."

    She lie in the snow, soundless. The noises of the men dissipated into the night.

    She couldn't move. She couldn't move, but somehow, she stood up, and went into the house. The crackle and heat licked at her fur. She felt around the hot walls, to the dresser, and put on her spare spectacles. She couldn't move, but somehow, she carried Skylea outside.

    She sat down, far from the blaze, holding her sister in her lap, and they grew cold together while ash snowed down on them both, smelling of burning fur and meat.

    Horse hooves trotted up, crunching in the snow. The now-familiar faces of the two men grimaced at her from below the saddle, swaying and dripping blood even after the horse had stopped.

    A man in armor that shimmered in the light of the fire climbed down from the horse, removed his glove, and took her hand in his. He talked, but she didn't listen. She let go of her sister and stood. The man lifted her onto the horse's saddle, wrapped his cloak around her, and climbed up behind her.

* Part 10

    He placed the heads on the counter, and what little blood was left drained onto the thousands of stains coloring the wood. The door pushed open behind him, the little waif girl, tail tucked around her waist, shuffling in with a wheezing cough. He turned back to the woman behind the counter. She was comparing a poster to the pallid faces, then stamped it and slid him two bags of coin.
    She said, "Fifty gold apiece, aye?"
    "Aye," he said. "Any others?"
    "Johnled's gone off with the last rustle. Catch him up near Arthe Dale, or wait for the next."
    He grunted. "I'll wait. Got business anyway."
    "The girl?"
    "I'll see her to the orphanage."
    "Poor thing."
    "Poor thing," he echoed, tonelessly. 
    He nodded, turned and grabbed the girl's shoulder, spinning her around and back out the door. He lifted her when they neared his horse, but her body stiffened. Her little hand reached out from the cloak gathered around her, and clutched at his armor.
    "Stop it, girl, behave."
    She croaked something under her breath. He maneuvered her onto the horse, her body going limp and allowing it, and climbed up after. They trotted down the street a ways, then he sighed, bringing the horse to a halt, then turning it around. They came to a small tavern, and he brought her inside, ordered her a large meal and an ale he knew she could never finish.

    He watched her eat, because he had to lift the knife to her lips and jab the pieces of food past her teeth and tap her chin until she chewed. There was no life in her eyes, even after he wiped the ash off her spectacles and put them back on her face.

    When she had the strength to refuse and had eaten a third of the meal, he reached to his belt and put down a bag of coin on the table in front of her.

    "Two hundred platinum kronar," he said, keeping his voice low. "That's all they were after. Its yours, if you want it."

    She didn't raise her eyes to his. He unbuckled his scabbard and put it on the table, too. 

    "There's nothing else," he said. "There's no revenge to take. I took that from you. So you can take that sword and I won't lift a finger to stop you, if that's what you need to take from me."

    To his surprise, she lifted a frail little hand and curled her fingers around the hilt of the sword. She made no move after that. He waited, long enough for the patrons around them to leave and be replaced by new, hungrier people.

    "Its heavy," he said. "A sword. Its not easy to lift, some days. Its harder to lift it against another soul. People I hunt, they haven't got any. Can't say if I do anymore, after what I've done in my life."

    He noticed her fingers tightened around the hilt. He slung his shield off from over his shoulder and laid it out on the other side of the plate of food, face down.

    "This is even heavier. You know why? Because this is where the souls go when they're not in your head. Souls are memories, girl. They don't walk no starry road. Every last person you didn't save. But they got to live somewhere. Some have names, most don't. You'll think about them, how they came to be, what they might have been. They'll be there when the rest of the world's forgotten. Children growing old, over and over, when all you want to do is sleep. But you can't, because to sleep is to forbid them life. Curse them every night, out of my head, into the shield. Just a moment's peace, all I asked for, never deserved it. If only I'd moved faster, they'd have their own body, still. Forgiveness, never asked for. Never accepted. Never given. So you tell me, girl... who will carry them if you strike me down?"

    He watched as she reached out and grasped the shield's inner handle.

    This time, he wasn't surprised when she stood up, dragging them off the table, and they clattered to the ground, the weight bringing her down. He wasn't surprised when she stood up again, lifting them with strength that didn't belong in her little body, or when she looked him in the eyes.

    "Not yet," he said, smiling with only his mouth. "But I'll teach you."

    "Teach me," she said, her teeth gritted. "Teach me to be a paladin."
    He laughed then, loud and long, causing the tavern to pause and stare at them for a moment.

    "A paladin? Is that what you think I am?"

    She glared knives at him, the effect only deepened by the tavern's torches flickering in the lenses of her spectacles.

    He wiped the tears from his eyes and leaned forward, ruffling her ash-dusted mane. 

    "I'll teach you what I know, but girl, that ain't how to be a paladin. I'll teach you how to be a bastard, how to spit when you've got nothing wet left in your body. I'll teach you why you'll always need another knife in your boot, why you never tell a street lady your name. I'll teach you everything I know and hope none of it sticks. You put those down right now, and I'll take you to the orphanage, get you cleaned up and into a nice bed, and maybe you'll eventually sleep, and never see me again. Or you carry those upstairs, and when the sun rises, you'll wish you'd made the other choice, because I'm not letting you put them down again."

    She was trembling. Then she was crying, collapsed on the floor, finally letting it all out.

    But no matter how hard anyone tried, she never let go of either sword or the shield, and she carried them up the stairs, and when the sun rose, she carried them back down, and walked with them beside his horse, day after day, until he rode off to capture a bounty and only his horse came back. She'd never told him her name, and he'd never told her his. And despite her growing strength and skill, the shield really did feel heavier that day.