tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Paladin's Training Ch. 16

A Paladin's Training Ch. 16

byAntidarius©

Smythe knew he was running out of time. After Elaina had spoken to him on the Plane urging him to find Jeira and Hamlin before the Druids did, he'd spent the rest of that night and most of the next day searching Ironshire high and low. Finally, he'd found someone who'd seen them, only to be told that the couple had left several days ago, bound for their farm.

Smythe was still amazed that any Druids had survived the Purging. He knew a little of their people, mostly from old texts he'd read long ago. It was said that once they had your scent, they could track you almost anywhere. According to Elaina, they were out for Aran's blood, but they had Jeira's scent, too, which placed her and her husband in danger.

Smythe would protect Jeira and Hamlin if he could get to them in time. In the approaching twilight, he was lying low on Thunder's neck, the rumble of the big black stallion's hooves his namesake. Jeira and Hamlin had left days ago, but they had a wagon, and would be travelling much slower than Smythe. Hopefully, he would catch them up before much longer. Neither man nor horse had slept since leaving town, and the only stops had been to feed and water Thunder.

It was approaching dusk, and this late in the day there were no other riders on the narrow road that led almost due south from Ironshire and into the Emerin Forest, and the trees lining the road sped by as Thunder raced on. He was a big, strong horse, and had good staying power, but Smythe would only be able to run him like this for so long before risking an injury. The valiant steed had already been pushing hard for the better part of three days.

The trees thickened the further south he went, and eventually, with the sun now vanished over the horizon, he crossed the border of the forest, slowing Thunder to a trot and using his Gift to sense the area.

It had been some time since Smythe had visited the Emerin Forest, and it somehow felt different, though he couldn't place his finger on why. The oak and pine trees all looked much the same, as one would expect from a forest, so what was it?

The hairs on the back of Smythe's neck prickled as he realised that apart from Thunder's hooves clip-clopping on the dirt road and the light breeze rustling the leaves, there were no other sounds. A massive wood like the Emerin should be a symphony of life at this time of evening, with chirping crickets, hooting owls, barking foxes and the whirring of cicadas, but instead there was only silence.

Even though his Gift was telling him he was alone, Smythe reached up over his shoulder and eased Lightbringer in it's scabbard, his head swiveling as he rode.

The deathly quiet was shattered by a piercing scream from further down the road, and Smythe had Thunder back to a gallop in a flash, his Gift showing him the path ahead and enabling him to guide his mount over tree roots and sudden dips that could snap the stallion's leg at a wrong step.

In moments, Smythe was there. A slim, dark-haired woman and a dark-haired man stood next to an overturned cart.

They fit the description Elaina had given; it had to be Hamlin and Jeira.

A broken lantern lay at the base of the cart, the burning oil spreading slowly outward, the flames providing the only light against the dark of night. A pony lay on it's side nearby, it's throat torn clean out, the snapped cart shafts still tied to it's harness.

A massive black wolf as tall as a man stepped toward the couple, it's maw still dripping with the pony's blood.

"Get behind me, Jeira!" The man said, putting himself between the woman and the wolf.

With a wordless cry, Smythe booted Thunder to a charge, reaching over his shoulder and pulling a glowing Lightbringer free. lowering it at the wolf, but there was too much ground to cover, and the wolf was already too close to the couple.

The beast lunged forward with a growl, seizing Hamlin's arm in huge jaws and twisting viciously, pulling the poor fellow face-down into the ground.

Jeira screamed again in horror as the wolf released the arm and pinned Hamlin down with a huge paw before closing it's fangs over his head and snapping his neck with a quick, practiced jerk.

Sorrow and rage crashed over Smythe as he saw Hamlin go limp. He was too late to save the fellow, but he could still save Jeira. "Try me, Druid!" He bellowed as Thunder crashed forward, hooves flashing as the stallion tried to trample the wolf, which leapt nimbly out of the way, but not before Lightbringer scored it across the flank.

The Druid yelped as it felt the blade pierce it's skin, and blood quickly began to mat it's thick fur. It hesitated for a moment, and Smythe used the opportunity to put Thunder between the beast and Jeira.

The poor woman looked terrified, huddled against the bottom of the cart and staring wide-eyed at her husband's corpse.

Smythe kept his attention on the Druid. Elaina had told him there were five of these creatures in total, so where were the others? He needed to get Jeira out of here quickly. "Come, Druid," he growled. "Try me."

With a snarl, the Druid did something Smythe did not expect. One second, it was on the ground, the next, it was airborne, leaping clear over Thunder's head and crashing a heavy shoulder into Smythe. Lightbringer fell to the ground with a clang as man and beast tumbled to the earth. Somehow, Smythe had the beast by the upper and lower jaw, and only his strong smith's hands were keeping them from closing and crushing his fingers.

For long seconds they wrestled, until a scream of primal fury erupted from Jeira, who charged forward wielding one of the snapped cart shafts like a lance and plunging it into the Druid's flank. The splintered wood piercing the skin easily, and hot blood spurted, running down the length of wood and onto the ground.

With a high-pitched yelp of pain, the Druid-wolf pulled free and loped into the forest, dragging the embedded shaft with it.

Jeira looked down at Smythe, and he gave her an appreciative nod before getting to his feet. "Thanks, lass."

She didn't respond, however; her attention was on her husband's body lying in the dirt with his neck twisted at the wrong angle.

Smythe's heart went out to the poor woman. "I'm so sorry, Jeira. I was too late to save him."

Kneeling beside Hamlin's body, Jeira began to weep.

Smythe wanted to weep with her. "Come, lass," he said gently, placing a hand on her shoulder. "It's not safe here. I need to get you back to Ironshire."

"What about Hamlin?" She sobbed. "I can't just leave him!"

Smythe shook his head. "No, you can't. We'll bring him back with us, and we'll give him a proper rite."

She nodded at that, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand before looking at Smythe for the first time. "You're a Paladin, aren't you?"

He inclined his head. "How did you know?"

"You remind me of Aran, or Elaina."

Smythe smiled reassuringly and helped Jeira to her feet before picking Lightbringer up off the ground and sheathing it over his shoulder. It had stopped glowing, which meant that danger was gone, for now. "Come on, lass. Let's get going."

A short time later, Smythe was mounted on Thunder, with Jeira riding in front, and Hamlin's corpse slung over the stallion's rump. Smythe wished there were a more dignified way to carry Hamlin's body, but with the cart ruined, this was all they had.

Smythe used his Gift to align with Jeira, wanting to ease the woman's pain, and due to the nature of the Gift, he could now feel her pain more clearly. He bore the heartache silently, giving the woman time to grieve.

Aran, being Bonded to Jeira, would be feeling her pain wherever he was as if it were his own. Smythe hoped the lad was in a safe place; it had been some time since he'd spoken to Aran, and last he'd heard, Elaina had not been able to reach him of late.

As if reading Smythe's thoughts, Jeira quietly asked, "how is he?"

"He is well, lass, so far as I know," Smythe said carefully. There was no point telling the woman that Aran had effectively vanished; she had enough problems for now.

"That's good," Jeira said softly. "Up until recently, I've always been able to feel him in my mind, and in my heart, but lately, he hasn't been there."

Now, that was odd. Two Bonded should always be connected; that was the way it worked, unless one of them died, in which case the other person would be an emotional wreck for a time. "What do you mean, lass?"

"It's strange; I know he's still with me, but I can't feel him, or tell which direction he's in. It's almost like he's behind a wall or something. Is that normal?"

Truthfully, Bella and Rayna -- who were also Bonded to Aran -- had said something similar recently, and Smythe had no clue as to an explanation, though he hid the fact from Jeira. "The Bond is a mysterious thing, lass, with many facets. Some are known, some are not, even among Paladins. Much knowledge was lost in the Darkening, and I often wish I bore the wisdom of my ancestors, though it is a foolish wish."

Jeira patted his hand comfortingly and settled back against his chest, the gentle rocking of Thunder's gait and her emotional exhaustion quickly sending her to sleep.

Smythe spent the rest of the journey back to Ironshire thinking; if he'd been a few seconds faster, would Hamlin still be alive? Would this woman still have a husband? Aros had a plan, Smythe knew, and all things happened for a reason, but he still couldn't help but wonder.

*

With the slow pace of their return, it was almost midnight when Smythe halted Thunder before the closed gates of Ironshire. As soon as the two guards on duty -- stocky Arl and bony old Raiman -- recognised him, they immediately opened a gate, only stopping him to ask if he needed help.

Smythe had earned the trust of these men long ago, but still did them the courtesy of giving an explanation for why he had a body strapped to his horse, and a sleeping woman in front of his saddle. He left Druids out of it, instead telling the guards a pack of wolves had attacked, and they'd claimed the life of one poor farmer before being driven away.

Arl and Raiman had nodded sympathetically and offered their condolences before closing the gate behind Smythe. They were good men, but they would talk, and by tomorrow the town would be clamouring for guard patrols into the Emerin Forest in order to keep the local farmers safe from wolves, which would only place more people in reach of the Druids.

Smythe had some influence with the Mayor of Ironshire, and would deal with that problem tomorrow. For now, getting Jeira into a bed was the priority.

A short time later, upon returning home, Smythe had given Jeira over to the care of Rayna and Bella -- two of Smythe's lovers who were also Bonded to Aran -- and then taken a short trip across town to the old residence by the cemetery, where he delivered Hamlin's body to the bleary-eyed undertaker, along with a purse of coins and instructions to prepare for a burial on the morrow.

After stabling Thunder in the small one-horse stable he'd built behind his home, Smythe went inside to check on Jeira, who was sound asleep in the room Aran had occupied during his training.

Smythe often thought of the lad, and wondered how he was getting on. He'd tried a few times to contact the young Paladin on the Plane of Aros, but had not been able to find him.

Returning to his own room, Smythe was greeted by the sight of fire-haired Rayna and raven-haired Bella sleeping peacefully in his big bed. They were naked and lying on their sides, Rayna cuddled in behind Bella.

Aran had met these two buxom beauties on his last night in Ironshire, at the end of his training under Smythe. It had been a long night of wild pleasure, and the two Paladins had made love to these girls many times before the morning came. Somehow, during that night, Aran had not only Bonded the girls to himself, but also Bonded them to each other, which was a thing unheard of, at least until Aran started doing it. Now, Rayna and Bella were inseparable, and did everything together, which, Smythe supposed with a smile, was greatly in his favour.

The night was warm enough that the women were sleeping uncovered, and Smythe slipped in behind Rayna, pressing himself up against her soft body and relishing the feel of her ample bottom against his lower belly. She pushed back slightly, letting him know that she was awake and willing, and though he was sorely tempted, Smythe instead chose sleep, for he needed to let Elaina know that Jeira was safe.

*

Smythe awoke to the sun filtering in through the curtains. Surprisingly, he was alone in the bed, which was a rare occurrence of late, what with Rayna and Bella spending most of their nights with him.

He had had no success last night at reaching Elaina on the Plane, or anyone else, for that matter. That was the problem with Plane visits; both parties had to be asleep for it to work. He would try again tonight, but for now, he would help Jeira as much as he could.

His house was not the biggest in Ironshire, but it was close, a comfortable, two-storey dwelling of red brick with a tiled, sloping roof in the fashion of Ironshire. The two bedrooms and a washroom were upstairs, and downstairs was the kitchen, the dining room, and a small library.

Smythe pushed open the door to the washroom without thinking, realising all too late that it was occupied. Jeira was sitting in the big wooden tub, and Bella and Rayna were fussing over her, the three of them chatting idly while Bella brushed out Jeira's black tresses and Rayna tended the small fire that heated the water bucket. Why Bella and Rayna had foregone clothes to do this was beyond Smythe, but then, this house was very much home to them, and they rarely bothered with dressing while they were here.

Instinctively, Smythe apologised and pulled the door shut, not wanting to embarrass Jeira, but to his surprise, she called him back in.

"Yes, lass?" He asked gently, poking his head back in.

Jeira smiled, then beckoned him further into the room with a wave of her hand. "It's alright, Master Smythe. I'm quite comfortable here, and I have no qualms about nudity, not these days, anyway."

Seeing no reason to stay outside, Smythe entered the room fully, closing the door behind him to keep the heat in. "How are you, lass? You had a rough day, yesterday."

She smiled in response, though there was pain in her dark eyes. "I'll be alright, in time. Bella and Rayna have been a comfort, to be sure." She smiled at the two women, who returned the smile warmly. "I want you to know, Master Smythe, that I don't hold you responsible for Hamlin. It wasn't your fault."

Smythe took a deep breath. Although he knew that to be true, it still felt good to know she harboured no blame. "Thank you, Jeira. That means a lot to hear. And please, call me Henley."

"Henley," Jeira repeated. "That is an old name, isn't it?"

"It's because he's an old man," Bella said matter-of-factly, before she and Rayna burst out laughing as if it were the funniest joke in the world. Even Jeira quirked a small smile!

"He doesn't look much older than thirty or so, to me," Jeira said, eyeing Smythe up and down.

Smythe realised at this point that he had quite forgotten to dress before leaving his bedroom, and he was standing before Jeira in nothing but his skin. Well, she did say she was comfortable, and she certainly seemed nonplussed by a naked man watching her bathe, so he decided to stay where he was.

Rayna jumped in with an exaggerated whisper, cupping a hand near her mouth for effect. "He's actually over a hundred years old, but don't mention it, as it makes him grumpy!"

More laughter, and this time, Jeira joined in. "A hundred? How is that possible? Look at him!"

Smythe answered the question, shooting a flat look at his cheeky lovers. "Paladins live a long time, lass. Sometimes up to a thousand years or more."

Jeira's mouth fell open. "A thousand years? That's incredible!"

"Aye," Smythe said with a grin. "Now, if there's nothing else, ladies, I'll leave you to your morning?"

"Thank you, Henley," Jeira said as she stood, the water running down her slender, pale body. "For checking in on me. I am grateful for your hospitality."

Smythe nodded in response, unable to stop himself appreciating the sight of Jeira standing there naked and wet. She wasn't as well-endowed as Rayna or Bella, nor was she as curvaceous, but her smaller breasts still sat proudly on her chest, and her legs went on for days. Smythe mentally kicked himself for ogling a grieving woman. "Stay as long as you wish, lass. I'll speak with Aran just as soon as I can so he knows you're with me. Also," he added gently. "I've made arrangements for a burial service today, if that's what you wish."

Jeira's eyes brimmed with tears, and she wiped them away. "Yes, that would be nice." She replied, stepping out of the tub and accepting a warm towel from Bella.

Seeing no reason to stay, Smythe exited the room to give Jeira some space.

***

The celebration was in full swing. The Wood Elf home of Ildernass was alive with music and feasting and dancing. Everywhere Elaina looked, elves cavorted with abandon, many of them naked or very close to it. She was seated at one of the long tables that had been set up in the Circle -- what the elves called the loosely circular area in the center of Ildernass that they used for important gatherings -- watching the festivities with interest.

A very good-looking male elf with long midnight hair appeared at her side to refill her cup with the delicious fruit wine the elves favoured. The fellow was slender, but with well-defined muscles and melting brown eyes, and he wore nothing but a flimsy loin cloth.

Elaina decided that he looked rather good, and made her opinion known by reaching a hand beneath his loincloth and firmly squeezing a smooth buttock.

The handsome elf looked down at her and flashed perfect white teeth as he smiled, letting his eyes wander down the front of her loose white blouse.

"Hey, eruchen!" Silver-haired Induin called from across the table, where she was perched with her twin sister, Liaren.

Elaina looked away from the sexy elf and tried to focus on Induin, though her eyes didn't seem to want to. How many cups of wine had she had? "What?" She asked with a grin.

"What are you doing to Dainor?" Brown-haired Liaren asked with a smirk, her emerald eyes twinkling.

Elaina's hand kept squeezing Dainor's ass cheek absently as she tried to think of a funny reply. This wine really was good stuff. "I'm simply rewarding him for his excellent work!" She said, unable to suppress a giggle.

"I would say he feels pretty rewarded!" Induin said with a laugh as she indicated the front of Dainor's loincloth, which was beginning to rise. He had long since finished pouring her wine, Elaina realised, but had stayed where he was.

Looking around, Elaina could see that the party was becoming more and more hedonistic, with many elves engaged in steamy embraces, and what little clothing remained on their bodies was quickly being shed. This made her suddenly very aware of how overdressed she was, in her shirt and breeches, especially with Induin and Liaren across the table, their pert breasts visible above the polished wood.

Tonight was indeed a night for celebration, and not just for the elves. Aran was alive and unharmed, and had found a whole group of Servants, and Elaina -- thanks to the elves -- had escaped the Druids without having to allow them to fuck her; something she would have tolerated, but not enjoyed, not from those beasts.

Peering up at Dainor again, she thought he looked a little familiar. "Don't I know you?" She asked him, changing from squeezing his ass to lightly trailing her fingers up and down the backs of his thighs.

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